Writing for organisations

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jef costello's picture
jef costello
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Dec 5 2007 16:02
Writing for organisations
Smash Rich Bastards wrote:
in our group the people who most get singled out as the brainy thinkers, most prolific writers and public loud mouths are not especially representative of the group as a whole... more often than not it is the college educated types, people who are most bi-lingually fluent, the most confident public speakers, etc. (which usually goes side by side with gender and/or class privilege). I assume its the same for alot of political groups.
MJ wrote:
Definitely getting off topic, but I'd like to hear from folks in other organizations about building writers within their org / through their propaganda. What works? Co-researching and co-authoring articles? Making members write at least one article a year? Writing as part of internal education? Practice through writing short bits for agitationals?

I thought this was a very interesting question that deserved its own thread.

I think that internal education, such as workshops, would be a good idea. Also I think organisations should go beyond encouraging members to write and actively ask them to. Sometimes writing stuff is seen as elite, in some cases it is, requiring a lot of research and work, but most writing isn't that difficult and there is no reason why some members of a groups shouldn't participate in this form of action.

Personally I've got a university education so I should have already known how to write. Turns out I really didn't. First time I tried to write things was an anti-recruitment leaflet. I'd brought up the issue of recruitment at community events and we'd agreed it was something we felt that we should counter and some of the old hands suggested that I give writing a leaflet a go. I got some pointers and advice from a few people in the group but never ended up writing the leaflet. Or at least never finished it smile

For libcom I started with a synthesis of a french news story because there wasn't much information available. I think I was asked to do it by John., or at least he suggested it, but I can't really remember. I drafted it and posted it on the old internal forum and it ended up being posted in draft form so I did have to get a few bits changed and neatened up.

From then on I mostly did short updates so translating things or synthesising several sources.

Then I started doing news articles, which again are usually translations or syntheses based upon foreign material.

I think support from comrades is helpful, especially offers to help with drafts or to proof read things. I've offered to help people out in the past but I don't think anyone's taken me up on it.

Personally I find that when I'm writing something I try to ask myself:
what information am I giving?
why am I giving it?
who am I giving it to?
how will they read it? (Where, when etc)

These are the same questions that I tell my students to ask themselves when they are writing their work.

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Dec 5 2007 17:43

Something I was interested in which wasn’t fully addressed in the Media Malarkey thing Schnews put on this year but I’d like to look at sorting out was doing a proper full-on training weekend incorporating writing techniques, basic research and design etc, non-partisan but possibly done as a joint project from a variety of different groups (which could work because the sole emphasis is on training skills).

We’ve got the skilled people necessary knocking about, most of whom would do it for travel money or a bit extra, in theory something along those lines, if well done and well attended, could bring an awful lot of people forward very quickly indeed.

ronan
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Dec 5 2007 18:03
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I think organisations should go beyond encouraging members to write and actively ask them to.

i agree with you on this jef. I'm a member of the editorial committee for the WSM's paper and we make a point of always asking a new member to write articles.
i actually don't think workshops would work, the idea has been floated around for a while but nothing has come from it. more helpful would probably be a style guide for writing. we should also take a more pro-active role in mentoring writers but there are big time pressures on the newspaper and we're all overstretched as it is. the magazine committee i think do quite a good job of mentoring.

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Dec 5 2007 18:08

No we don't. I don't really know how mentoring would work. I know we don't really do any of it though. We offer it but haven't done it as long as I've been active on the committee.

Dust
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Dec 5 2007 18:42
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I know we don't really do any of it though. We offer it but haven't done it as long as I've been active on the committee.

Not exactly true for the WS committee anyway. Help is offered for new people who are writing articles. Not a mentoring proccess as such but help in selecting materials, recomending books, sharing information etc. Then when the article is in , if its a new persons article, we used to send it back to them with suggested edits or reasons for the edits we made. This hasn't happened systematically for about year though.

antrophe
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Dec 5 2007 20:13

Perhaps a slight side note, but there are some good resources on the side bar of this page over at Wiretap magazine outlining the basics of interviewing, writing a report and the like.

I often think that there is a wider negative at work here that makes it hard for people to contribute to movement publications, especially newer members of an organisation or those new to a politics. I'm not really addressing WS or RnB - as it's quite a general thing I've found, most movement papers have of a set feel or style, and usually it comes in the absence of an actual discussion on the paper as a whole.

Newer writers come along wanting to contribute but feel hugely constrained by what has gone before; the established styles of writing, the topics covered and form of address birth a rather unhealthy expectation over the writer. That weight of papers past, makes it harder to write an article than if they were writing for other publications, at least that's what I've found.

This has obvious knock on effects for the sort of issues that a paper looks at, for instance does it just hammer out anarchist politics or does it take a more subtle approach to developing a dialogue with its audience, bringing an anarchist analysis to topics that aren't addressed as often in the movement 's papers.

The lack of feedback on articles is reflective of this. Articles that are constrained and fitting the parameters of a expectation just aren't going to interest people or provoke them into making comment - even from members in the same organisation - than those that are fresher or dealing with contemporary issues that haven't been poked with an anarchists eye.

Another huge knock on effect for newer writers in a movement is the online culture that we have unfortunately developed in the movement. Imagine a newer writer or any contributer prowling around for ideas and topics and coming across the methods of harsh redress doled out to other articles from the comments section or in forums? Some critique is valid, and I'm not addressing Libcom here - more my experience at Indymedia.ie where so much shite prevails and then anytime someone puts together a decent enough piece annonymistas will tear into it over grammar and syntax.

So a rather odd thing I do now when writing an article specifically for print copy, is open up Indesign - grab a photo I like to accompany it in a basic layout with a headline and write it into that design. What does this for me is give me a sense of how it might look in some one's hand, how things might flow and speak in a limited paper space rather than in an ever growing forest of .doc drafts, white space or with an appendix of biting comments.

dara
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Dec 5 2007 21:30

One thing Clare mentioned that RAG do well is encouraging people to contribute. It would be worth having a dialogue between RBR eds and RAG to figure out ways to do this would be useful.

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Dec 5 2007 21:43

jef's picked up on a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine.

As members of South London SolFed will be aware (having listened to me droning on about it at length) there are certain skills I think everyone should have, insofar as they are able, and which it should be part of the role of revolutionary organisations to help & support with. These are over & beyond skills in workplace organising, etc.

These are: -
* writing a press release
* writing a short news-type article
* being interviewed by the media
* giving a short speech (3-5 minutes)

Now, I've been trained in all these things on various courses for union reps, that were delivered by other union reps. If filthy reformist organisations can do it, I don't see why we can't.

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Dec 6 2007 07:52

Precisely. It's not like we don't have the skills as a movement, we have a high number of people who know the basics and even the more complex stuff but they're spread around a large area of print and online. I don't think a workshop is difficult to do, it probably needs organisers and funding behind it.

Ideally, I'd suggest that a working group be formed with members of AF, SolFed and the IWW on it, that funds be sought from each of those bodies to spread the initial cost and impetus to spread it around, and a proper venue be hired, alongside getting professionals down to teach it, even if they have to be paid a bit for the day. I'd even suggest doing two, one in London and one in Manc, and an entry fee to help recoup the money.

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Dec 6 2007 07:57

.... and as well as being useful skills to have, and taking the burden away from those who already have them, it's important politically in that it can help stop the formation & consolidation of informal "leaderships" based on confidence & know-how. A winner all round, really.

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Dec 6 2007 10:38
the button wrote:
These are: -
* writing a press release
* writing a short news-type article
* being interviewed by the media
* giving a short speech (3-5 minutes)

Now, I've been trained in all these things on various courses for union reps, that were delivered by other union reps. If filthy reformist organisations can do it, I don't see why we can't.

I think it's probably best if people are in groups like unions that do this, or through work, they should get training this way as it won't cost anything.

we have a media guide here on our site:
http://libcom.org/organise/media-publicity-guide

we've also got content/style guidelines here, but it does need updating/expanding:
http://libcom.org/notes/content-guidelines

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Dec 6 2007 10:49

Yeah in Choice Ireland we've been offered free press workshops by another group and a number of people were interested in doing them. It is something worth doing. And I'd say people would take it up if it was offered.

Dara wrote:
One thing Clare mentioned that RAG do well is encouraging people to contribute. It would be worth having a dialogue between RBR eds and RAG to figure out ways to do this would be useful.

We're actually quite good at getting people to contribute. If you think about it there are very few people who haven't written for WS. Red and black is kind of different but that involves a very different level of committment. And if we met every week to discuss just one publication, I'd imagine we'd be infintiely better. But yeah people need support and encouragement to write articles and give educationals.

antrophe wrote:
I often think that there is a wider negative at work here that makes it hard for people to contribute to movement publications, especially newer members of an organisation or those new to a politics. I'm not really addressing WS or RnB - as it's quite a general thing I've found, most movement papers have of a set feel or style, and usually it comes in the absence of an actual discussion on the paper as a whole.

Newer writers come along wanting to contribute but feel hugely constrained by what has gone before; the established styles of writing, the topics covered and form of address birth a rather unhealthy expectation over the writer. That weight of papers past, makes it harder to write an article than if they were writing for other publications, at least that's what I've found.

This has obvious knock on effects for the sort of issues that a paper looks at, for instance does it just hammer out anarchist politics or does it take a more subtle approach to developing a dialogue with its audience, bringing an anarchist analysis to topics that aren't addressed as often in the movement 's papers.

Yeah. Its weird in terms of style. I think lefties have a weird idea of what people want to read. So we end up with sloganeering ala class war or articles that are quite dense ala WS. But people don't read shit like this, I'd be interested in finding out what the circulation of the FdCA's Antipode is. Cos obviously thats a very different mag.

I've said it to you before but maybe an anarchist Mongrel type magazine might reach more people than our stuff does. To be honest, like with Red and Black, I just don't know who reads it. Which is annoying when you put a lot of work into an article for it.

Quote:
The lack of feedback on articles is reflective of this. Articles that are constrained and fitting the parameters of a expectation just aren't going to interest people or provoke them into making comment - even from members in the same organisation - than those that are fresher or dealing with contemporary issues that haven't been poked with an anarchists eye.

Another huge knock on effect for newer writers in a movement is the online culture that we have unfortunately developed in the movement. Imagine a newer writer or any contributer prowling around for ideas and topics and coming across the methods of harsh redress doled out to other articles from the comments section or in forums? Some critique is valid, and I'm not addressing Libcom here - more my experience at Indymedia.ie where so much shite prevails and then anytime someone puts together a decent enough piece annonymistas will tear into it over grammar and syntax.

Yeah I remember the amount of stick I got for that article I did for he first issue of NOMASTERS. It was really annoying. Not jsut cos people were having personal swipes at me but because their personal swipes were based on really shit politics. Ah I could rant about that for ages but then my low opinions of certain people might become more public then they should. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

Anyway, I'm very very think skinned. I'm sure others would find it infinitely more difficult with the ammount of negative feedback. The lack of positive feedback is also really annoying. For example Aoife's article on the washer womans strike in WS was really really good, but nobody seems to have noticed it.

Quote:
So a rather odd thing I do now when writing an article specifically for print copy, is open up Indesign - grab a photo I like to accompany it in a basic layout with a headline and write it into that design. What does this for me is give me a sense of how it might look in some one's hand, how things might flow and speak in a limited paper space rather than in an ever growing forest of .doc drafts, white space or with an appendix of biting comments.
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Dec 6 2007 12:17

people should post their good articles here, they're more likely to get feedback on it than a paper publication, if they meet our guidelines...

antrophe
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Dec 6 2007 15:04
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Yeah. Its weird in terms of style. I think lefties have a weird idea of what people want to read. So we end up with sloganeering ala class war or articles that are quite dense ala WS.

I too always find this utterly bizarre, patronizing mainly too, that weird idea lefties have of what people want to read - its almost as soon as you adopt a set of politics you have suddenly thought yourself out of your class and thus must abandon all previous/current interests dare they stifle a dialogue (that isn't actually taking place) with your imaginary "man in the street."

From one of those usual wandering tangents you get taken on from the links on some other threads I came across this attempt to set some parameters for radical newspapers, I find the questions and approach it takes pretty informative and a good schema for looking at how you do radical journalism.

Quote:
Yeah I remember the amount of stick I got for that article I did for he first issue of NOMASTERS. It was really annoying.

I agree, that was a load of tosh - but again that arose because no one considered the angle from which you were writing the article and the audience that was being addressed, and that was of course students. Had that been last year and you wrote an article some what similar, but making some points about the CPE you probably wouldn't have gotten such stick and really, from reading that Rosemont book on the IWW, it was exactly that sort of thing that seemed to feature in much of the early Wobbly press.

Stuff I'd like to much more of in anarchist/movement newspapers;

Book/Cinema/DVD/Cultural reviews: I think Tom Jennings illustrates how this can be done very well, and newspapers that portend to a revolutionary purpose and skip over culture really aren't speaking to whole levels of people's experience. And sure in a very short publication it is probably quite important you use mechanisms that allow people to enter into a wider system of knowledge at their own pace, such as going out and renting a DVD from Blockbuster that is reviewed or picking up some of those popular enough book length works on contemporary currents from Naomi Klein/Zinn/Chomsky sorts that are all over book shops bargain shelves. Like from where I am at the moment, I was pretty surprised no-one had any thing to say on Indymedia or elsewhere about that RTE drama Prosperity which was meant to address all sorts of questions around class, immigration and so on in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.

Media Bytes: The Village does a decent job of this sort of thing across two columns, basically biting back at myths in the mainstream press that cultivate fear and agendas of governance.

Anonymous On the Job Moles/Whistleblower: Similar to this piece on office life as its to hand, there was also a good piece on the dilemma of being a social worker in the Dublin zine Lucidity, an account of restaurant work in the Cork Anarchist Conspiracy and one on working off the books in the States in WS some years ago. So it'd be far more honest address of the current state of play than the constructs of militant workers we tend to feast on so much and these probably alienate people or make them unable to relate with these heroic actors of social change we big up. Not everyone is a Joanne Delaney, but with the net and the publication of such things on Indymedia or other sites you can imagine a sense of identification growing in the comments fields or people starting to talk about their own workplace from a critical perspective, finding gaps and niches for potential movement.

And it was from a similar sort of "name and shame your boss" approach that the Socialist Party came across the issue at GAMA from what I know. Again mainstream papers often carry whole sections dedicated to workplace/staffing issues/work-life balance from the perspective of management and human resources and we very rarely touch on it from the contrary side at the popular level at all.

The Cunts List: That Mongrel thing could be given a name change and a bit more of vitriolic political bent with purpose (rather than just cynicism) towards those in power, humor never hurts.

syndicalist
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Dec 6 2007 15:10

I have the biggest fear of writing articles. It's sort of ironic, having been around this stuff and participating in publications for years. I guess when you're not a good writer, it makes it hard to sit down and put pen to paper....or fingers to keyboard.

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Dec 6 2007 15:28

Yeah, or answering interview questions!

syndicalist
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Dec 6 2007 15:39
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John: Yeah, or answering interview questions!

That too! Believe it or not John, you'll probably get that before MJ gets his piece of the ACF of N/A.

I'm committed to you both.... no lie.

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Dec 6 2007 16:00
syndicalist wrote:
Quote:
John: Yeah, or answering interview questions!

That too! Believe it or not John, you'll probably get that before MJ gets his piece of the ACF of N/A.

I'm committed to you both.... no lie.

yeah and like we've mentioned we'd love to have that ACF piece and any related articles as well!

Smash Rich Bastards
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Dec 6 2007 16:02
syndicalist wrote:
I have the biggest fear of writing articles. It's sort of ironic, having been around this stuff and participating in publications for years. I guess when you're not a good writer, it makes it hard to sit down and put pen to paper....or fingers to keyboard.

So that's whats been holding up the ACF article? You got no problems writing on message boards. Its just like that, only longer and with spell check. wink

syndicalist
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Dec 6 2007 16:02

Comrade....the fear of writing lives, trust me....but i will be most happy to share whatever i can muster up.

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Dec 6 2007 16:39

I think there's two issues here. One is writing well for movement stuff, the types of writing/the content that our organizations and media can use and stuff. The other is what The Button identifies, which is developing members and leaders. I think in the IWW at least the parts I'm familiar with, we're reasonably good at this latter bit, but only with regard to having direct conversations with workers and to a lesser extent with public speaking. One thing I've kicked around the idea of is trying to get people to do phone interviews or just have coffee with the tape recorder running, then type that up and edit it, get them to revise it and stuff. I think that could be a way to get people to write a bit more. Part of why I haven't is cuz of my own intimidation about writing - even though I think I'm a reasonably good writer I'm nervous about writing for other people, cuz I just figure "why would anyone care about this?", unless it's on a very specific (and usually esoteric) topic where I already know people want to read it so that I'm basically just writing for my friends.

Somebody told me about a pamphlet once, it was people talking in their own words about why and how they became commies/anarchists, I think something like that could be a good way to get more people plugged in to stuff.

dara
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Dec 6 2007 16:54
antrophe wrote:

Stuff I'd like to much more of in anarchist/movement newspapers;

Book/Cinema/DVD/Cultural reviews: I think Tom Jennings illustrates how this can be done very well, and newspapers that portend to a revolutionary purpose and skip over culture really aren't speaking to whole levels of people's experience. And sure in a very short publication it is probably quite important you use mechanisms that allow people to enter into a wider system of knowledge at their own pace, such as going out and renting a DVD from Blockbuster that is reviewed or picking up some of those popular enough book length works on contemporary currents from Naomi Klein/Zinn/Chomsky sorts that are all over book shops bargain shelves. Like from where I am at the moment, I was pretty surprised no-one had any thing to say on Indymedia or elsewhere about that RTE drama Prosperity which was meant to address all sorts of questions around class, immigration and so on in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.

Media Bytes: The Village does a decent job of this sort of thing across two columns, basically biting back at myths in the mainstream press that cultivate fear and agendas of governance.

Anonymous On the Job Moles/Whistleblower: Similar to this piece on office life as its to hand, there was also a good piece on the dilemma of being a social worker in the Dublin zine Lucidity, an account of restaurant work in the Cork Anarchist Conspiracy and one on working off the books in the States in WS some years ago. So it'd be far more honest address of the current state of play than the constructs of militant workers we tend to feast on so much and these probably alienate people or make them unable to relate with these heroic actors of social change we big up. Not everyone is a Joanne Delaney, but with the net and the publication of such things on Indymedia or other sites you can imagine a sense of identification growing in the comments fields or people starting to talk about their own workplace from a critical perspective, finding gaps and niches for potential movement.

And it was from a similar sort of "name and shame your boss" approach that the Socialist Party came across the issue at GAMA from what I know. Again mainstream papers often carry whole sections dedicated to workplace/staffing issues/work-life balance from the perspective of management and human resources and we very rarely touch on it from the contrary side at the popular level at all.

The Cunts List: That Mongrel thing could be given a name change and a bit more of vitriolic political bent with purpose (rather than just cynicism) towards those in power, humor never hurts.

I really like the idea of more cultural stuff which appeals directly to common experience. Is that the idea behind linking Common Cause members' blogs on the main site? But yeah, a sort of Mongrel/Slate-ish publication which is satirical, funny and easy to read would be a major advantage. WS occasionally incorporates humour & stuff, but it still comes across as a standard leftie paper. And Red n Black is dry as the Yangtze valley. Though it is worth pointing out that WS does occasionally have everyday experience content 'living on the minimum wage' etc., this is noticeable mainly for its infrequence, and the general appearance is pretty standardly leftie. I don't think that's a particularly bad thing, but we do need to be able to reach out to people on other levels.

However, I think the appeal of such a publication would be based on it being quite regular, and for us to be able to leave it around places for free. So, it would eventually be required to be published by a separate committee, which is probably beyond existing wsm human resources. It is a very good idea for the future though. sovietpop suggested a blog featuring contributions from wsm members on less strictly political stuff, and I think that'd be quite good.

In the meantime, a column such as 'Monthly Muppet' could be incorporated into WS, for particularly annoying public figures, or frequent 'work is shit'-style articles which are people giving out about their work. I like the latter idea as it would allow for us to solicit stories from our readers, which would be an interesting way of gauging whether people agree with the publication.

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Dec 6 2007 16:59
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Anonymous On the Job Moles/Whistleblower: Similar to this piece on office life as its to hand, there was also a good piece on the dilemma of being a social worker in the Dublin zine Lucidity, an account of restaurant work in the Cork Anarchist Conspiracy and one on working off the books in the States in WS some years ago. So it'd be far more honest address of the current state of play than the constructs of militant workers we tend to feast on so much and these probably alienate people or make them unable to relate with these heroic actors of social change we big up. Not everyone is a Joanne Delaney, but with the net and the publication of such things on Indymedia or other sites you can imagine a sense of identification growing in the comments fields or people starting to talk about their own workplace from a critical perspective, finding gaps and niches for potential movement.

Yeah I think this can be good. (But then I would with my autonomist hard on.) Like I thought your article on chugging was really good and the article we carried on C. working in HMV.

I was listening to the radio the other day and they were discussing the bus strike. And they had a segment on 'but a unions relics of the past here we interview some young workers at google'. Surprisingly none were members of a union, cos google is anti-union, and most weren't interested in unions. Google has also been voted best workplace like every year for a few years now, so thats no great surprise. But my mate who works there hates it she says they treat them like children. So I was going to ask her to do an interview on 'Working at Google' but I've no time at the moment to do what I'm doing never mind do more.

syndicalist
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Dec 6 2007 17:03
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Smash Rich Bastards Posts: So that's whats been holding up the ACF article? You got no problems writing on message boards. Its just like that, only longer and with spell check.

Oh, you think it's that easy? I can write letters and shoot the breeze on message boards, no problem. But to sit down and write long articles, I just freeze up. It's that simple. Also, I think, message boards and letters are more like talking. Writing, linking the research together, getting a good rythem and flow, it's a bit tougher---for me at least.

antrophe
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Dec 6 2007 17:10

You should do that as an email interview or for the sake of little bit of stylistic quirk, why not do it in a Gmail chat thing - you can edit out the address or get them to use an anonymous one - it'd be pretty funny that and you could just paste it online as is. You can take as long as you want with those IM interviews and Google will store it for you in your account.

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Dec 6 2007 17:49

Yeah that's an idea. I might do that. I don't have her email though. And I can't do it at work cos i cant access email accounts from work. I can get on facebook though. Hmm thats an idea.

Also syndicalist. a good way to get an article written quickly I find is to do an interview with yourself. Write out questions or comments based on what you want to cover and then just answer them. Edit out the questions and woop you've an article.

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Dec 6 2007 18:33
georgestapleton wrote:
Also syndicalist. a good way to get an article written quickly I find is to do an interview with yourself. Write out questions or comments based on what you want to cover and then just answer them. Edit out the questions and woop you've an article.

I already sent syndicalist the questions sad

thing is, if i asked them one at a time here, i'm sure he'd have no problem answering them.

i've thought about trying to do that here, do real time interviews with people on the forums, might do at some point...

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Dec 6 2007 20:56

syndicalist that's a load of old bollocks. Write how you talk, and if it's a load of shite edit it afterwards. If there's one thing I've learned from writing for a newspaper week in week out it's that words are not special simply because they're going into print/online. They're infinitely mlleable and will probably be torn to shreds by the sub anyway. You don't need to agonise over them so much.

Smash Rich Bastards
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Dec 7 2007 18:54
Saii wrote:
syndicalist that's a load of old bollocks. Write how you talk, and if it's a load of shite edit it afterwards. If there's one thing I've learned from writing for a newspaper week in week out it's that words are not special simply because they're going into print/online. They're infinitely mlleable and will probably be torn to shreds by the sub anyway. You don't need to agonise over them so much.

Agreed. You got a lot of knowledge and history to share. Don't get caught up on flowery presentation. If you need help organizing your thoughts that's what editors are there for.

syndicalist
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Dec 8 2007 15:46

Ok, look for my torturous writings in 2008.

BTW Sali, does Freedom reprint its issues on-line?

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Dec 8 2007 17:05

Why do people always read it as Sali? You're like the fifth person to do that...

Not the whole issues but the better or more relevant pieces sometimes go up on Libcom when I remember and have them to hand.