Writing In Practice

Book Cover

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11

Chapter 1:  On Writing Well

1. Produce a writing sample. The choice of subject is entirely yours. You could, for example, write a short travelogue piece about somewhere you have recently visited. An opinion piece on some question or issue of the day, such as U.S. immigration policy or whether online communication has eroded language skills, also is an option. You could even review a movie, play or book.
Length: about 700 words.
Be sure to include:

    1. a headline summarizing the work
    2. identification of the audience(s) for whom it is intended
    3. an abstract (a one- or two-sentence summary of your piece)
    4. a list of key words a search engine might use to find this writing piece online

2. Students should pair up and work together to improve the writing of one another. This exercise can be extremely valuable, and from both perspectives, that of being critiqued and that of (gently) critiquing. Some might be nervous or uncomfortable critiquing a classmate, especially early in a course, but students should not fret. Be civil and constructive, and demonstrate that you have or are developing a tough skin. Writing improvement demands a great deal of constructive criticism and, therefore, an increasingly thick skin and short memory.
Workshop partners should have at their disposal a writing handbook and this text. It does not matter which handbook; they cover the same general topics. Each student will use the handbook to analyze his or her own writing and that of the assigned workshop partner(s).
Length: about 500 words, but this word count is admittedly arbitrary. Feel free also to have an email conversation, as well, asking clarifying questions, perhaps, and/or exchanging multiple versions of the writing samples.


Chapter 2:  New Media versus Old Media

1. This chapter’s assignment has two parts. First, revise your Chapter 1 writing sample based on the feedback and help you receive from your workshop partner(s) and from the instructor. Feel free to continue dialoging with your workshop partner(s) and/or the instructor during this revision process. Second, begin formatting the piece for online readership. The purpose here is merely to get started, so do not worry at all about how sophisticated your formatting is or about the limits of your knowledge of XHTML or CSS. The important thing at this stage is to conceptualize how the information should be presented online.

A blogging software can be very helpful in this exercise, particularly since most offer an HTML or Code view, which will show you all of the code generated to create the Web presentation

Use this chapter to inform your formatting. You will need to know or experiment with some XHTML, or have some familiarity with a Web authoring software package like Dreamweaver or Mozilla, both of which offer CSS support. Both and WordPress also accept HTML coding, provided you first select “Edit HTML” or “Code” (rather than “Compose” or “Visual”). If you use the shortcut buttons in your blog software, be sure to inspect or view the code to learn something of how the formatting is added.


Chapter 3:  Screen Writing: Online Style and Techniques

1. Choose a Web site you visit regularly, one where you read a lot of the content. Imagine that you have been hired as the site’s new editor-in-chief. Make specific recommendations to improve the presentation of content at the site, integrating and referencing the chapter as much as possible. What elements or features promote use of the site? Again, think of all the elements described in this chapter. How are graphics and visuals incorporated, and do they encourage or discourage use? How do they do this? How much thought was given to navigation throughout the site? Are the elements -- graphical, navigational and metaphorical -- consistently applied throughout the site? Is the tone or rhythm of the site consistent throughout? Do these dimensions match the audience(s) for the site? Here is a categorical checklist of site dimensions to critique:

  • Navigation
  • Page layouts (balance | contrast | unity)
  • Consistency
  • Tone and voice
  • Writing quality
  • Site organization

Length: Approximately 800-1,000 words.


Chapter 4:  Headlines and Hotlinks: The Electronic Essentials

1. Find three examples online of poor headlines used as hyperlinks and provide their solutions (in other words, fix the headlines). Be sure to include the source for each bad headline, including URL, where applicable. Example:

Headline: Chubby Babies in Breast Cancer Link
Problem: Awkward. Possibly offensive. No verb. 
Solution: Infant Size Linked to Cancer Risk
Source:, February 10, 2008,

2. Find at least one article on the Web that you think could be improved by deploying lists. Submit the “before” version and your edited “after” version of the article, or part of the article.

3.  Re-write the headline for your Chapter 1 writing sample with this chapter to inform your work.

4. To practice writing to specification, write three different headlines for the following story fragment. Make the first headline eight words and the second six words. For the third headline, provide both a headline and a subhead, a headline of about six words and a subhead of about eight words. Separate the head and the subhead with a colon (example: “Dodgers Edge Braves in Second Game: Spahn’s 3-hitter wasted as Atlanta bats remain silent”).

The story fragment:
ACWORTH, Ga. – An Acworth man turned himself in to police Sunday night after robbing a Motel Six here and later attempting to mug a second victim on North Main Street.

Howard E. Smithton, 54, a resident of the Gazebo Park apartments on Old Cowan Street in Acworth, entered the Motel Six, also on Cowan, at 8:50 p.m. Sunday night and demanded money.

The clerk on duty, who said he knew Smithson, withheld his name for fear of his safety. He said he refused to give Smithton any money. A struggle ensued. Smithton overpowered the clerk, forced him to open the cash register and left with an undisclosed amount of cash, according to the clerk. Smithson then attempted a second burglary approximately one hour later on the 4800 block of North Main.

Smithton demanded that the victim, 59-year-old Bob Wilson, a member of Acworth’s board of aldermen, give Smithton his wallet. Wilson said he refused and began beating Smithton over the head with a walking stick, which chased Smithton away.

Smithton later turned himself in at Acworth police headquarters on Industrial Drive at approximately 10:30 p.m. He is being held on a $10,000 bond at the Acworth City Jail, according to Michael Rose, Acworth’s sheriff.

The money from the Motel 6 have been returned, Rose said.

5. Capstone assignment

Below is a long, 5,000-word text-only article with a sidebar (secondary story or information package). Applying the tools in this chapter, “webbify” the article and sidebar for online consumption. Look for content to present in list format. Add a headline, subheads and, if appropriate, sub-subheads. Think about and perhaps recommend screen grabs, photography and graphical content. Indicate what text and perhaps other elements you would link, as well as to what you would hyperlink. Think through internal navigation. Divide into meaningful chunks.

Let’s assume you are “webbifying” content for, a Web site devoted to “travel with a purpose,” or travel and vacations that aspire to more than just tourism or sightseeing. Your audience is made up of 30-somethings and 40-somethings who are active, who are fairly savvy travelers. They are politically aware, purposeful vacationers (they do not go to DisneyWorld; they do go to Nepal, Croatia, Beijing, South Africa).

Remember to storyboard!

Picture 2

The article:

By Gerry McGuinness

At “half seven” on a misty Saturday night in June, the elegant Grand Opera House in Belfast’s city center glimmered and glowed on its corner of Great Victoria Street. The theater enveloped a sellout crowd into its velveted, gilded interiors for a production of “Dial M for Murder.” Most big cities take nights like this for granted, but not Belfast. In Northern Ireland, a quiet evening at the theater has at times been an impossibility.

“We’re savoring the peace,” said one native Belfaster, settling in for the production. “We’re at the theater, aren’t we?”

On and off for decades, sectarian strife made going out at night a risky proposition. Bombings forced businesses and dramatic venues, including the Grand Opera House, to shut down. Cabbies designated “no-go” areas throughout the city. Hotels began frisking their guests.

Today, however, this ancient capital is again a bustling European city, and normality has meant the return of cultural and economic vitality, civic pride and an almost palpable optimism. Northern Ireland is indeed savoring the peace, and the irony is that some Belfasters now are fearful of visiting London, which has become a favorite target for jihadist terrorists, when for so long Londoners avoided bomb-scarred Belfast.
When Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley shook hands last April with Ireland’s prime minister, or taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, the two unlikely partners ushered in what increasingly bears the earmarks of a new era. The handshake seemed to ratify the fatigue-induced peace and, perhaps more importantly, re-started power-sharing between Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists, loyalists and republicans. Whether this peace will end violently and tragically is a question seemingly everyone is asking in the six counties of Northern Ireland, where the task of finding a way to officially remember the more than 3,600 who died or were killed during the Troubles has only just begun, where even what and whether to remember are nettlesome questions.

Visitors to Belfast might sense only vaguely the tensions that still course just below the surface of daily life. After all, investment monies are flowing in, Belfast’s international airport is busy, and traffic whirs with workaday rhythms like those of most capital cities. Just behind the scrim of normalcy, however, lurk evidences of anxiety concerning the future. Memories of sectarian strife, after all, are still fresh, and the challenge of honoring the dead while at the same time re-wiring the impulses that helped to kill them looms large. Still, merely seeing video footage of Paisley and Ahern shaking hands, not coincidentally a stone’s throw from the scene of the Battle of the Boyne, and of Paisley and former Irish Republican Army leader and Sinn Fein member Martin McGuinness sitting at the same table to govern together at Stormont has residents hopeful. (Stormont is Northern Ireland’s parliament building in Belfast.)

“There’s a whole new atmosphere in Belfast,” said Ann Monahan, a native of the city now living in Galway, Ireland. “It’s much lighter. Everyone is so tired of all of the fighting. For so long no one wanted to invest in Northern Ireland. Now I can’t believe all of the cranes you see throughout the city.”

Indeed, construction apparatus are so numerous in Belfast that local residents have begun calling the crane the new national bird. The many cranes – I could get as many as seven into one frame of my camera – are emblematic of what one Belfaster calls “a modern miracle.”

“A lot of investment is coming in from the Republic, which is quite a turnaround from the not too distant past when the Republic was essentially a third-world country,” explained Irish News columnist Chris Murphy. “Now, Dublin real estate is astronomical, so investment has shifted to Northern Ireland. Peace has made that possible.”

Peace has made a lot of things possible, re-defining daily life and making the North once again an appealing vacation destination, particularly for those interested in how conflict is resolved or managed. Few Belfasters even 15 years ago could have imagined, for example, that the recently restored Grand Opera House would operate again as Northern Ireland’s premier playhouse. Damaged and closed in the early 1990s, the 113-year-old theater has reasserted itself by blending politically current, topical productions, such as “The Interrogation of Abrose Fogarty,” with more commercial fare, like “Annie” and “The Lion King.” That the venue is open again is a triumph, and this is not lost on the city’s residents.

“This wasn’t possible 10 years ago,” said one theater-goer, attending “Dial M for Murder” with her husband. “I can’t tell you how much it means, just a night at the play.”

A visit to the restored Europa hotel next door, which isn’t a bad idea before or after the Opera House, also underlines just how comprehensive Belfast’s comeback has been. Only Sarajevo’s Holiday Inn was bombed more often than the four-star Europa, which once again glitters on Great Victoria Street. Bombed more than 30 times, the modern Europa was a frequent IRA target in the 1970s, then again in the early and mid-1990s, emblem as it is of Unionist luxury, privilege and capitalist muscle. The bombings, which began almost as soon as the hotel opened in 1971, led to drastic security measures, including searching luggage and deliveries, and building security walls along the front of the hotel. Not surprisingly, tourists stopped checking in, at least in numbers, but the resilient hotel staff made sure the hotel never closed.

Sipping a pint in the hotel’s ground floor bar, looking out over a lobby alive with the energy of Belfast’s resurgent tourism and business sectors, it is difficult to picture the destruction of Europa’s kitchen and restaurant, which was wrought by a bomb attack in 1971, or of the bombing in 1993 that led to an $18 million restoration project. Regardless of Northern Ireland’s prospects for long-term peace, the odds of a bomb attack at the Europa now are remote. Ahern stays here when he visits, just as Bill Clinton did twice in the late 1990s. (Ask for the 10th floor “Clinton Suite.”) Even Sinn Fein members have been using the hotel during the last decade as a meeting spot, particularly during the Stormont government’s suspension from October 2002 to May of last year.

The decade-long peace has made further bombings a non-starter, as have the bomb attacks perpetrated by Muslim extremists just across the Celtic Sea in London. Any resemblance the IRA can be said to have to radical Islamic jihadists is reason for Northern Ireland’s political process to exclude Sinn Fein. In a way, radical Islam helped facilitate the announcement by the IRA in 2005 that it was disarming, emphasizing to the world the priority that should be placed on political solutions rather than violent ones. If the IRA wants to resist categorization with extremists, it also hopes to avoid the public perception that it, along with Unionist paramilitaries, has become a mafia-like criminal organization. Consider two recent crimes that served to weaken the IRA’s credibility in Belfast, Dublin, London and even Washington, D.C. 

In December 2004, a heist of Belfast’s Northern Bank in broad daylight netted its suspected IRA operatives more than 26 million sterling pounds, or about $40 million. Belfast’s police believe the operation was too sophisticated (in broad daylight, right next to City Hall) to have been pulled off by anyone other than the IRA. In January 2005, Robert McCartney, a Catholic, was beaten to death outside Magennis’s pub, a favorite IRA watering hole just two blocks from the Northern Bank and an easy walk from the Europa. The killers, who police believe were IRA members, wiped down the bar, told customers “nothing happened here,” and left McCartney to die on the sidewalk out front. Investigations into both the robbery and McCartney’s killing continue, with no convictions yet secured.

Magennis’s, which still is open, is part of a City Centre that also includes the the Crown pub, Waterfront and Odyssey concert halls, City Hall and plenty of good shopping, including an open air market running Fridays and Saturdays. The Crown, built in 1826 but extensively refurbished in summer 2007, is a quintessentially English pub, and it is just across Great Victoria from the Europa and the opera house. With its assault of colors and textures, the Crown is worth a visit even for non-drinkers. A primrose yellow, gold and ripe red ceiling, gold feather motifs on Corinthian columns, brocaded walls, a Balmoral red granite-topped bar, richly painted and etched glass, and floors of tiled mosaics make the Crown one of the more visually interesting buildings in the whole of Ireland. As afternoon turns to evening and noise in the “gin palace” appreciates considerably, a premium is placed on the ten private “snugs,” or elaborately carved wood booths that ring the bar. The painted glass, ornate carved woodwork, and confessional-like intimacy of the snugs make refuge in one an experience not unlike church, which shouldn’t surprise, because Italian craftsmen working on churches in Northern Ireland in the late 19th century were coaxed into helping with the Crown, as well.

Mother England is prominent around the corner at City Hall, as well. A statue of Queen Victoria (1839-1901) stands sentry outside the renaissance-style, copper domed complex built in 1906 and around which the city center whirls. Free tours are offered, and some time appreciating the Portland stone building from its lawns and walking its perimeter is very satisfying, as well.

Waterfront Hall, a performance venue, and the Odyssey Pavilion, where the 5-year-old Belfast Giants hockey team plays, are new additions to the harbor where the Lagan River slices into Belfast, an area completely revitalized since the IRA ceasefire in the late 1990s. Importantly, Protestants and Catholics alike cheer on the Giants, one of the few sporting teams in Ireland that unite rather than divide. Perhaps no vista in the city more quickly communicates how far Northern Ireland has come in the last decade, and how eager it is to move ahead, than that offered by the inner harbor, showcasing as it does forward-thinking modern architecture and steel-and-glass structures that hug the Lagan’s banks.

Cross the city, passing along the way beautiful Queens University and its lush lawns and gardens, to see the Lyric Theatre, which serves as a sort of living monument to the Troubles. The Lyric provides a steady diet of Irish drama, including contemporary Irish productions. Opening at its current location in October 1968, just as the civil rights movement was mobilizing, the playhouse has not shied away from controversial productions, even during times of crisis. In 1971, the year before Bloody Sunday and the worst year of sectarian strife, the theater premiered “The Flats,” a play by Irish writer John Boyd that was the first production in Northern Ireland to center on the Troubles. Even during the most turbulent times, the Lyric refused to close.

“Coming to the theater became an act of defiance,” said Susan Phelan, the Lyric’s marketing director, during a popular run in summer 2007 of “Dancing at Lughnasa,” written by leading Irish playwright Brian Friel. The Troubles indeed kept many away, she said, but closing down would have been an act of surrender. Today, the theater is thriving, and Belfast’s hard-won peace is a big reason why. “It’s a different attitude now,” Phelan said. “Everyone is so happy to call normal ‘normal’ again, and you can see that in the audiences here.” So optimistic is the Lyric that its board is planning a new, $24 million, multi-stage theater complex to be built on the present site.

To appreciate the Troubles and the residues of conflict they left behind, visitors to Belfast should tour the Catholic Falls Road and Protestant Shankill neighborhoods, replete as they are with propagandistic wall murals, which, as a collection, provide a sort of narrative or history of the conflict. Shankill Road takes you through the middle of a Protestant working-class neighborhood that is punctuated by murals celebrating Protestant and loyalist victories dating back to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, one of the principal battles commemorated during the annual marching season.

The Orange Order marches are staged each July 12, a national holiday in the North called The Twelfth and commemorating the victory of King William of Orange over James II, the Catholic king William removed from the English throne to reassert English Protestant rule over Ireland. Not surprisingly the marches are viewed by many Catholics as provocation, and violence has more often marked the day than has peaceful remembrance. Notably, in July 2007, march season passed nearly without incident, even though tens of thousands of Protestants marched in Belfast and in Derry. More than a hundred were injured in the marches as recently as 2005, when Orangemen were attacked by nationalists with gasoline-filled bottles and hand grenades.

When touring the murals, take with you a scorecard or directory of all of the various paramilitaries and political groups, most of which are represented in some way in the art. To know the difference between the RIRA and the RUC or UDA, for example, is to begin to appreciate the loyalties the murals demand. (The acronyms, respectively, signify the Real IRA, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Association.) Throughout the Shankill, bright murals commemorate the many loyalist paramilitaries, such as the UDA and Ulster Freedom Fighters. One mural in particular, portraying a UFF sniper, is chilling in how the hooded gunman’s eyes follow you around the Shankill green space bordered by apartment houses. Clearly intimidation was the artist’s goal.

The Shankill area is separated from the Catholic Falls Road neighborhood by only a “peace wall,” a euphemistically named combination of wire and concrete barriers designed to repel rocks and explosives, and to keep Catholics and Protestants from coming into contact with one another. Along Falls Road, the experience is a bit different. Where loyalist murals occupy residential walls, or the end panels of apartment buildings in most cases, those in the Falls area are located more often in purely public areas. Their abundance and public-ness underscore how The Troubles were, and to some extent remain, a state of mind as well as a state of civil unrest, and how this mindset is bequeathed from one generation to the next. Graffiti, too, is used to appropriate otherwise public spaces, to communicate identity and affiliation, and to exclude, to say who is not welcome. “No Pope Here” and “Fuck the IRA” in the Shankill; “Brits Out” and “Sinn Fein!” along Falls Road (Sinn Fein is Gaelic for “Ourselves Alone” and the name of the Republican political party in Northern Ireland).

Along Falls Road you will see Sinn Fein headquarters. It is impossible to miss, emblazoned as it is with a three-story mural of Bobby Sands, perhaps the best known of the martyred hunger strikers who died at the infamous Maze prison at Longkesh. (Plans are afoot to turn the Maze into a complex of athletic fields.) The building provided the backdrop for the many Sinn Fein press conferences in the mid- and late-1990s, and it is situated just across the street from the IRA’s Garden of Remembrance. A memorial to the “soldiers” who died in the “war” for independence, the Garden and its political references reinforce claims that The Troubles were much more about sovereignty and land rights than religious differences. Directly opposite the Garden is the largest collection of murals in Belfast, including several that comment on U.S. politics in Iraq and elsewhere. Perhaps the most poignant of these depicts President George Bush siphoning oil from the Middle East by sucking a plastic tube and ingesting the petroleum.

Charged with knitting some sort of national fabric from the many disparate cloths and cleavages in Northern Ireland is the country’s recently re-convened Parliament, which works at Stormont. Built from stone representing all 32 Irish counties, Stormont was built in 1932 as a sort of “thank you” to Northern Ireland from England for the partition of the island, the political act that divided the island into two nations. Welcoming visitors is a statue of Edward Carson, founder of the UVF in 1912 and a broker of the partitioning agreement. (“Welcoming” might not be the appropriate word choice; Carson, postured in an aggressive lunge, appears to be haranguing visitors as they approach.) It is worth a visit for its grandeur, for the beautiful “Mile” road leading up to its dramatic entrance and for the opportunity of imagining the building covered completely in manure during World War II. Insert your favorite politics-and-bullshit joke here. (They did it to camouflage the building from German bombers, and it took years to sandblast back off.)

Visitors to Ireland seeking to understand The Troubles, including their legacies and residues, must also visit Derry, and there are a few very different, entertaining and enriching ways to get to Derry from Belfast. The coastal option, while longer than a direct route, offers a feast for the eyes, and quite a bit of the island’s history, as well. Highlights along the way include Giant’s Causeway, a mass of 40,000 hexagonal basalt stone columns that form steps from the foot of the cliff into the sea. Irish legend attributes the unique formations to Finn McCool, commander of the King’s armies, but the stone gallery really is the product of volcanic activity 6,000 millennia ago. A nature walk through and around Giant’s Causeway is worth a day’s activities, or it can be sampled as briefly as time allows. Also on this route is the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which is not for those afraid of heights. The bridge affords stunning sea views to those who are not, however. Also on this route is the Bushmills whiskey distillery, the breathtaking scenery of the Nine Glens of Antrim and the 14th century Dunluce Castle, which teeters on a cliff’s edge and is described by many as the most picturesque in Ireland.

The southern route would enable stops in Armagh City, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland and the burial place of legendary Irish clan king, Brian Boru. Saint Patrick built Ireland’s first stone church in Armagh City, which now also is home to the sky-reaching Church of Ireland Cathedral. This route also goes through Omagh, site of the horrific RIRA bombing on the city’s main shopping lane in August 1998.

Following the A2, you would enter Derry from the north, traveling parallel with the river Foyle that divides the city and its Catholic and Protestant residents. Even the city’s name is emblematic of the competing claims that confuse identity in the North. Republicans refer to the city as Derry, while Unionists call it Londonderry, designations that double the city’s identifications on signage, maps and histories. Derry was the epicenter of the most recent phase of the strife, or the modern-day Troubles, that began in the late 1960s, and it was site of the Bloody Sunday massacre 35 years ago.

On January 30, 1972, a civil rights march in “Stroke City” culminated in a deadly confrontation between some of the more than 10,000 marchers and British army paratroopers. In just 15 minutes, 13 marchers were dead and another critically wounded. No British soldiers were killed, but an official inquiry implausibly declared that the soldiers had merely returned fire on armed marchers. We still do not know any of the names of the soldiers involved, though some of their superior officers, who have been identified, have been decorated by the Queen. Reminders of the fateful, fatal day seemingly are everywhere in Derry, from the Free Derry section of the Catholic Bogside neighborhood, to Guildhall, where the British Widgery and Saville inquiries have been conducted, to the Free Derry Museum and Bloody Sunday Archive, a must-see for anyone genuinely interested in comprehending contemporary Irish history. Talk to anyone in Derry’s city center, which is marked by the inner stone wall that has defined Londonderry since it was established in the early 17th century, and rapidly you will discover some direct link to Bloody Sunday.

Derry resident Carol Lynn Toland was 17 years old on Bloody Sunday, and she was dating a member of the IRA at the time. She says the memories are as fresh today as they were 35 years ago, which is part of the problem. Fortunately not all of what Toland remembers is sorrowful. Saturday night at the riots, for example.

“We used to ask each other on Friday, ‘What time are you going to the riots?’” said Toland, looking out over Bogside, the nearly entirely Catholic neighborhood in which most of Bloody Sunday took place, and where her father grew up. “We would tell our parents we were going babysitting.” One night at the riots, on Derry’s William Street, Toland, which connects Bogside with the city center, she and a friend walked into a rock-throwing attack on the RUC, or British police. The Catholic boys called a temporary ceasefire to let the ladies pass. “We walked safely through, and they started throwing rocks again,” she said. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The experience of Toland’s first boyfriend represents in microcosm many of the lingering problems of sectarianism, radicalism and divided loyalties. In 1979, Joe was arrested for carrying two grenades and a gun. Toland said Joe and a group of his friends were on their way to bomb a British patrol at the time of his arrest. They had been trained by the IRA in explosives, but one in the group had been coerced by MI5 to become an informant, a traitor. “He was told by the British that they would shoot his whole family if he didn’t cooperate,” Toland said. The informant identified Joe, and British police picked him up. After three days of intense interrogation, during which Joe never surrendered, never signed a confession, he began serving three years in Longkesh in Belfast.

“I used to pray while he was in prison that he’d never forget me,” Toland said. “My grandma used to pray that I would forget him.” Joe exited Longkesh a very different person than the one that went in, she said. “He came out so institutionalized, so radicalized. He came out with his head all messed up.”

William Street, or Sraid Liam, is a main thoroughfare in the city center, and it is where the British army erected a barricade on Bloody Sunday, on the edge of Bogside leading into Sorrow Square, named in tribute to Ireland’s famine victims. Another barricade was placed where today a large, white “You Are Now Entering Free Derry” wall has been erected, in Free Derry Corner. From this vantage point, visitors can easily imagine the bedlam of Bloody Sunday, and in minutes they can walk to the Bogside Inn or the Free Derry Museum, both of which are essential stops on any tour of Derry or even of Northern Ireland.

The Bogside Inn was, and perhaps still is, a sort of de facto headquarters for the IRA, including for then-IRA leader Martin McGuinness, a native of Derry. Inside is one of the best, most comprehensive photo collections of Bloody Sunday’s people and events anywhere, and it is a great place to down a pint with Derry’s working class Catholics. The pub also serves as official headquarters for the “Free Derry Celtic Supporters Club,” making it the place to watch any televised Celtics soccer match. The Celtics of Galway are the team of choice for Northern Irish Catholics, whose wardrobes heavily rely on the team’s green and white. Galway’s Rangers are embraced by Northern Ireland’s Protestants, so people do not wear Celtic colors across the river, where Protestants are concentrated, nor would a person wear Ranger blue in Bogside. Color and language are cultural weapons in Northern Ireland, as even a casual observer quickly notes. (Restaurants commonly forbid patrons wearing team colors or emblems.) Ireland’s tri-color flag waves atop the Bogside Inn, while “No RUC” graffiti shouts from across the street.

The Free Derry Museum, just a block from the pub, is simply unforgettable. Combining video, audio and displays of artifacts from the Troubles, including clothing worn by the victims on Bloody Sunday and original newspaper accounts, the museum and archive confronts visitors with the chaos and cruelty of the day, and the lack of justice since. Jean Hegarty co-founded the museum to pay tribute to Bloody Sunday’s dead, who include her brother, Kevin McIlhenny. Just 17 the day of the marches, McIlhenny was shot trying to crawl to safety.

“I was away, living in Canada, at the time of my little brother’s death,” said Hegarty, who moved back to Derry in 1995. “I think my guilt kicked in, so I got involved.”

Hegarty said she believes investigations like the Saville Inquiry, a $350 million fiasco that so far has yielded little new information, are a waste of time and taxpayer money, that a truly independent, impartial investigation will never come. “But what people want has largely been accomplished,” said Hegarty, who was 23 years old on Bloody Sunday. “We know the 14 were innocent. Their reputations have been restored.”

The museum is physically attached to the flats in which another victim’s grandparents once lived. Jim Wray, 22 that Sunday in January, was twice shot in Glenfada Park just in front of the flats and museum, then executed as he lay on the ground. Wray had been dancing at the Embassy dance hall that night, and he’d gone drinking with friends at Castle Bar the night before.

Abutting Waterloo Place off the end of William Street is Derry’s most visually arresting site, the neo-gothic style Guildhall built in 1887. Destroyed by fire in 1908 and rebuilt over the next four years, the city hall offers visitors impressive interiors, including more than two dozen of Ireland’s finer stained glass windows that together offer a sort of visual fugue about most of the more important episode’s in the city’s history going back four centuries. Also dramatic is the floor-to-ceiling, 3,100-pipe organ in the main council hall. Guildhall serves as an important symbol of the Troubles, embodying as it does the ties to London and to the Crown. Witnesses of the events of Bloody Sunday were interviewed in Guildhall as part of the British-run Widgery Tribunal, an official coverup memorialized in Brien Friel’s unforgettable play, “The Freedom of the City,” which visitors to Derry are encouraged to read. (Depending on the mayor’s agenda, you can visit the mayor’s parlor in which most of Friel’s play takes place.) The Saville Inquiry of recent years, which seeks in part to correct the wrongs of the Widgery Tribunal, also conducted interviews in Guildhall, which towers over the Foyle and punctuates Derry’s landscape from all directions. The building geographically marks the Catholic-Protestant divide, perched as it is on the river next to the connecting bridge. More than 95% of the population on the Guildhall side are Catholic, but the majority swings the other way when crossing the bridge and onto higher elevations. Derry native Clionagh Boyle recommends talking with residents on both sides of the river.

“If you peel back the layers, there are all sorts of backgrounds and influences,” said Boyle, who is a director at Derry’s Women’s Centre responsible for the Children’s Commission located just off Sorrow Square near Guildhall. “We have a Children’s Commission because we felt we needed to be an intermediary much sooner in n people’s lives. By the time you are in your thirties, so much damage to self-esteem has already been done.”

Boyle said she was 19 years old before she met her first Protestant friend, and she had to go to Dublin to do it.

“The irony was that she was from Derry, too,” Boyle said. “It shouldn’t be that way, of course, and many are working toward creating safe places and spaces for both Catholics and Protestants to interact.” The challenge is getting Catholics and Protestants even to want their lives to intersect because division and strict separation is what both sides wanted, and have carefully built.

“In this world there are only two tragedies,” wrote Ireland’s rascally playwright Oscar Wilde, in the very funny “Lady Windermere’s Fan. “One is not getting what one wants; the other is getting it. The last is much the worst.”

To learn more about Northern Ireland and its recent history prior to traveling, here are some resources abstracted to help you.

The Lie of the Land, Irish Identities (1997). Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole explores how Ireland constantly builds and rebuilds its identity, providing along the way rich portraits of the Irish people and the divisions that prevent consensus on just what it means to be Irish.

“Something to Write Home About,” from Finder’s Keepers (2003), by Seamus Heaney, in which the Nobel poet explores identity. A native of Derry in Northern Ireland, but Irish Catholic, Heaney looks at how part of who we are is determined or at least influenced by “the other.”

Eureka Street, Ballantine Books (1996). In Robert McLiam Wilson’s tale of love and loss, Belfast is as much a character as the two unlikely friends on whose fortunes the book’s narrative turns. The time is a cease-fire in the mid-1990s, a breath between the bombings that have punctuated life in several Northern Ireland cities since the late 1960s.

“Bloody Sunday.” While it cannot provide truth, Paul Greengrass’s docudrama does deliver verisimilitude, taking viewers into the heart of Derry as one of the 10,000 for that fateful Sunday in January 1972.

“Omagh.” A feature film shot documentary-style that recounts the bombing of a crowded street in Omagh, N.I., in August 1998, and, in its aftermath, the pursuit by city’s grieving families for truth. 106 minutes. Like “Bloody Sunday,” this film stars Gerard McSorley, a native of Omagh.

“Butcher’s Dozen: A Lesson for the Octave of Widgery,” a poem by Thomas Kinsella, available:

“The Freedom in the City,” a play by Brien Friel set in Derry’s Guildhall during The Troubles.

“Neither an elegy nor a manifesto,” a poem by Ireland’s John Hewitt that contemplates the difficulty of dealing with the dead.

The Guardian newspaper’s exquisite archive of press coverage of The Troubles, up to the present:,,446746,00.html. Includes several excellent Flash movies that summarize The Troubles:,6189,344683,00.html.

“The Bloody Sunday Inquiry,” Ten years and more than $350 million in costs since its launch, the Saville Inquiry, or Bloody Sunday Inquiry, has yet to publish or announce its findings. Only the lawyers are happy.

St. Columb’s Cathedral, on London Street in Derry, is the city’s oldest building, finished in 1633. Inside are marble monuments, stained glass, carved stone likenesses and the cannon ball hurled at the church that carried inside the request for surrender during Londonderry’s siege in 1688-89.

The walls of Derry, which is the last completely walled city in Ireland. Built in the early 17th century, the walls can be walked in less than an hour, and they offer spectacular vistas of the Foyle River, the surrounding countryside, Bogside and the city’s center.

Derry’s murals in Bogside and the Fountain area offer a sort of history of The Troubles, including tributes to the hunger strikers, the victims of Bloody Sunday, the practices of the British paratroopers and the combatants, including the IRA and RUC.

Language classes at the Foyle Language School in Derry, including lessons in Gaelic.

Guildhall stained glass windows, unveiled in 1912 after the structure’s rebuilding. There are groupings of them in the Vestibule, the Entrance Hall, the Mayor’s Parlour, Top Corridor and, for the largest collection, the Council Chamber.

Free Derry Museum and National Civil Rights Archive. Established in the heart of Derry’s Catholic Bogside by the Bloody Sunday Trust, the museum tells the story of the civil rights movement from the Republican perspective. Open M-F year-round, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., 1-4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Bogside Inn, a pub in Bogside, also boasts one of the most comprehensive collections of Troubles photography anywhere. At any moment, the pub’s denizens might join you as a sort of docent, explaining the context or import of one of the photos.

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in County Down can be visited en route to Derry from Belfast. In addition to one of the better Titanic exhibitions, the museum has more than 300,000 still images representing Northern Ireland’s ways of life over time. Buildings on the property include houses, mills, shops, schools and churches that recreate life in the early 1900s.


Chapter 5:  Know Your Audience

1. Identify a publication, company or organization for or about which you will create online content. This entity can be real or imagined, corporate or non-profit, local or national or international. Suggestions? Outside Magazine, The New York Times, Coin Collector’s Digest, Coca-Cola, Habitat for Humanity, International Association of Business Communicators, the Miami Dolphins. The entity you choose should be a publication or organization with which you have or want to have some connection or affiliation, one with which you are already familiar. It can be the one for which you already work, or one for which you want to work in the future.

Prepare a two-page summary of the audience needs for the publication or organization for which you will be writing content. Do research. Your summary should include:
* an audience profile (Who will be reading the content?),
*  a purpose of publication (Is it for entertainment, for news, for both?),
* a frequency of publication (Is it a monthly magazine or an hourly-updated blog?),
* a list of the competition (What are the other publications competing for the same audience),
* style issues (Will you maintain the current style guide of the publication or organization, or is there need for a new one?),
* information challenges (What does the audience need to know, or what information does the organization need to broadcast? Do any special obstacles stand in the way of communicating that information quickly and clearly?),
* and your response to the information challenges (How will you overcome any barriers and get your content out there?).

2. Detail the online content you will create for your organization or publication. What you write and develop is up to you, so you have the flexibility to do what makes sense and to write what can best serve you where they are now – school, on the job or on the job hunt. Possibilities for this assignment include:

    • A news story or series of news stories
    • A feature story
    • Criticism (such as restaurant review, play or movie review, book review)
    • A press release
    • A how-to feature

These are just a few of the possibilities. Keep your publication’s audience first and foremost in your mind. Identify the topic or angle of your proposed piece, making sure the topic is relevant and timely. This is a story or piece you will actually write, develop and produce. You will gather the information, do the reporting, conduct the interviews, see the play – whatever is necessary to produce the copy.  


Chapter 6:  Getting It Right: Online Editing, Designing and Publishing

1. Develop and complete the content piece you detailed in the previous chapter’s assignments. Develop and present the piece for online readership by using the techniques and tools discussed in chapters 2-6. Do not merely post a large block of text or cut-and-paste from Word. This assignment asks you to apply what you have been learning. Be sure to spend plenty of time editing, including fact checking, spell checking and editing for grammar, punctuation and organization.

Length: At least 700 words.


Chapter 7:  Blogito, Ergo Sum: Trends in Personal Publishing

1. Liveblog something – an event, a trip, a conference or a meeting. Take your readers there. We are looking here for immediacy, vicariousness, texture, reflection, a sense of what happened and what you thought about it. Think of this assignment as visceral, immediate, on-site reporting from a particular point of view – your point of view.

Liveblogging means merely blogging while the event is happening, using multiple brief posts to give your readers an account of that event. Hyperlink where appropriate. There is no minimum or maximum for the number of posts; you likely will find a rhythm.

Length: minimum of approximately 700 words, but feel free to blog on.

Real world example 1: USA Today’s entertainment reporter, César Soriano, attended Star Wars Celebration III in Indianapolis April 21-24, 2005 and blogged about it >>

Real world example 2: ESPN’s live blogging of Roger Clemens’s testimony before Congress on steroid use in baseball >>


Chapter 8:  We the People, Part I: Citizen Journalism

1. Generate a map using any Web-based mapmaking software, such as Google Maps ( or Map Builder ( Use your own zip code as your locality. The map you will build will show site visitors where in the city there are WiFi hotspots for wireless Internet access.

Picture 4
mapbuilder’s map-making interface

Place markers on your map indicating where in town there are wifi hubs or access points. Finally, publish your map to a blog or Web page.

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Example of the beginnings of a Chapel Hill WiFi identifying map

2. Amend or edit a Wikipedia entry. Choose a subject for which you have expertise, but don’t worry. It’s easy. You will probably want to create an account first so that your ISP is not made public.

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3. Sign up with twitter ( and “tweet” a news event, concert, meeting or conference – something. You will want to experiment with Twitter before you’re on assignment, before you need to know how to use it.

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Greensboro N.C. News & Record’s Twitter feed of political coverage, or, more accurately, of pointers to its political coverage, at

The goal here is merely to become familiar with the service, with the 140-word format and with the dynamic of frequently, briefly posting to a network of readers who you know might immediately receive the information. Of course there are often cases where richer prose is effective, even essential.

For an example of how Twitter can help you, see “How Twitter Finally Taught Me to be an Editor,” by Craig Stoltz, from May 2008, available: Stoltz’s blog entry on his experience with Twitter is written in 140-word (or less) tweets, or Twitter posts.

You can also find local Twitter-ers by searching TwitterLocal ( and even subscribe to the RSS feed for the result of that search. Another resource is TweetScan (, which you can use to check up on breaking news or events.

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Results of a TweetLocal search in Chapel Hill, N.C.


Chapter 9:  We the People, Part II: News as Conversation

1. Report, source, write, edit and post one news story on any topic. The article must have or rely upon at least three human sources. The more timely, the better, and the story should hit demonstrate impact or consequence. Keep it simple, and very short stories are fine. Beware, however, of conflicts of interest. This means avoiding friends, family members and business associates as sources, and stories that could materially affect those companies and entities with which you are affiliated.

Post with the story the questions you asked your sources, a list of the facts you checked and verified, and a list of the sources you attempted to contact (not merely those you were able to include in your story). Also identify your intended audience(s).

As you are completing this assignment, think about what might be added to your main story for publication online, including multimedia and interactive features? Because online you would have all the space you would need, consider the range of added features that could be developed, including fact boxes, a FAQ list, a podcast or video extra, interview notes and transcripts, maps, charts, a glossary, slideshow, animated graphic, poll, related stories and opinion, and perhaps an area where readers can contribute reactions, story ideas, photos and comments. No need to do any of these things, but consider what might make a strong story package online.

For non-journalists, if you need guidance getting started, Poynter offers a good source through its “NewsU.” Look for Hot Courses” on left panel,

The five basic journalism questions:
WHO is involved in what you’re covering?
WHAT are they doing -- and accomplishing?
WHERE are they doing it?
WHY are they doing it in the first place?
HOW do they make it happen?

Warning: Do not wait to get started. Procrastination results in sloppy, harried work, and you might have difficulty reaching your sources. Build in time for callbacks, for failure to reach people. Sources are best reached early in the morning and just after 5 p.m., or after most people are gone and the phones are relatively quiet.


Chapter 10:  Getting Down to Business: Intranets, Extranets, Portals

1. Create an interactive FAQ help page for some entity (publication, company or organization), preferably one with which you have some formal connection. Suggested is the entity you selected for the assignments for Chapter Five. This frequently asked question section should anticipate common problems and questions users might have about that publication, organization or company.

The objective is to think for our audience(s) and anticipate their questions and needs. It is, therefore, the process that is most important, not the product. This means that you do not have to worry too much about design or layout or aesthetics.

The page should have:

  • Clear, comprehensible instructions
  • Clear organization
  • Thorough consideration/anticipation of user questions
  • Informative, helpful answers to FAQ questions
  • Design that promotes, rather than impedes, page usability


Chapter 11:  Learning the Legal Landscape: Libel and Privacy in a Digital Age

1. Read the posted privacy policy and/or user agreement of your favorite Web site, preferably one for which you supply information and/or content. Write a response to the policy that includes any objections to the ways in which the site reserves the right to use the information and content supplied to or published on it.

Length: about 700 words

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2. In this hypothetical, you are legal counsel to, which is facing a libel suit. Advise the news site as to how to avoid or win the libel action based on the following facts. On December 2, 2009, the published a story with the following headline:  “Six Killed in Pair of Wrecks.” The published story:

Six people were killed Saturday night in a horrifying pair of alcohol-related crashes near Yankee Stadium after a sold-out baseball game.  Five of the six victims had stopped to help after the first accident.

The accidents occurred about 11:45 p.m., roughly two hours after the Yankees’ victory over the Red Sox on a congested street near the Stadium. The identities of the victims had not been released by early December 3. New York Police Sgt. Rocco T. Ruggiero said that a white Ford Explorer ran a stop sign and pulled onto East 161st Street. The Explorer was likely coming from the stadium and alcohol was a factor, Ruggiero said.

The Explorer struck a silver Toyota Prius in the intersection. The driver of the Explorer that ran the stop sign was killed. Other motorists and one person riding a bicycle stopped to help.

A green Chevy van heading east then slammed into the good Samaritans and into both the Explorer and the Prius. Ruggiero said that the third motorist was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and faces “more very serious charges.” 

The driver was not seriously injured, and he was taken to a local hospital to be treated. Ruggiero identified that motorist as David Simmons, a 19-year-old Brooklyn College student from Queens, N.Y. whose address is a campus dormitory. Brooklyn College officials confirmed that Simmons is enrolled there as a student.  They said he is a soccer player and the vice president of the campus chapter of SADD, Students Against Drunk Driving.

Five victims were pronounced dead at the scene; the sixth died en route to the hospital. Five of the six were males. Their ages were not released.

As authorities blocked off streets in the area, bodies lay on 161st Street covered with sheets. Robin Hubier was leaving her apartment on a bicycle when she saw the green van pass her. “I heard a sound and saw something, but that’s about all,” she said. As she pedaled closer, she saw that the van had hit people. “It’s a tragedy,” Hubier said. “All I can say is that it’s a damn tragedy. Whoever was driving the van was too much in a rush. I think people like that guy are just too stupid to know when it’s unsafe to drive.”

Simmons sues for libel per se, seeking $5 million in damages. Simmons said the story was libelous because it falsely reported that he was guilty of drunk driving and that it falsely portrayed him as stupid. Simmons said he was not drunk and that he’s not stupid. He said he majors in inter-disciplinary studies at Brooklyn College.

In your advice to the site, provide counsel on the following concerns:

  • What type of libel plaintiff is the court likely to name Simmons?
  • What, then, will be the requisite standard of fault in this case?
  • Will Simmons be able to prove the requisite standard fault?
  • Are there other defenses the news site might consider?

(This assignment is entirely fictitious; the names, places and events were invented to create the above hypothetical.)


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