Millennial Media’s Mishaps

Young people are increasingly told to pursue careers in actually lucrative fields (read: not writing). Despite this, publications and online media outlets for college students are flourishing — and perhaps without enough scrutiny.

As one of my favorite millennial writers, Lily Herman, put it, “young people don’t need more platforms — they need more editors.” Disheartening? Yeah. It sucks to be told that your work probably needs more work before it’s of any publishable quality. But I’m inclined to agree with Herman (disclaimer: she was my editor at an outlet I used to work for); I know that without the editors I learned from at my first and second internships, I would’ve probably been publishing the kind of crap that gets made fun of on Twitter. Getting told that your idea is objectively Very Bad is an arrow to the heart at first, until it’s a couple months later and you realize that yikesI would’ve been skewered alive for that one.

I’ve seen that last sentence play out in actual scenarios over the last year. There was the infamous “my parents paid for my Coachella ticket and I don’t regret it” article, which ended up coming from a scammer. On the same website, someone posted a piece about how someone else was her boyfriend’s first love, but she, the writer, was the ultimate winner because he put a ring on her finger.

Odyssey Online Open Letters
Please don’t be this person, or apparently, these seven different people who had very similar things to say.

Those are just examples of bad ideas that should have been shot down. Unfortunately, this is all too common with publications geared toward readers between the ages of 13 and 24. Such publications are written and edited by young people who are still learning how to write for an audience, typically on an unpaid contributor model that top editors believe lead to a dip in editorial quality.  There are so many pieces riddled with horrendous typos, or reviews written like unedited thoughts that came out of someone’s mind. When you’re putting work out into the vast reaches of the Internet, those stories stay there. And like I talked about in a previous blog post begging people to do a simple spellcheck on the work they publish, it ruins one’s credibility when there’s a lack of thought and consideration in writing broadcast to millions of people. Young media outlets seem to be where this behavior happens most frequently.

As a product of and advocate for student media, I’m probably the least likely candidate you’ll find railing against the problems of young people working in media. Of course, that’s not my argument at all; without fresh perspectives, outlets will misrepresent hundreds of millions of people around the world. Young adults think differently than their predecessors did, and their opinions, no matter how different, are vital to understanding the world. We’d be remiss not to include their voices.

The difference between working in legacy student media and writing for national online-only outlets, though, was the insistence that writers stick to our rigid in-house editing style and adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. This is not to say that other outlets don’t have such guides, but it’s apparent from the kind of work published by such organizations that they don’t have the same kinds of editors breathing fire down their backs to get it all right. Student media was key to my development as a confident writer and journalist. Without that kind of rigidity, I would have floated off into cyberspace thinking that I was a good writer, just to be ridiculed for something badly written down the line (which may happen regardless).

At the same time, people who want their voices heard must understand that they’re asking for feedback when they put their stories out there. That feedback should improve the way they write or the way they structure their thoughts.

The only way to get such good feedback is by working with an editor familiar with the nuances of the English language. Young editors can have such skill — after all, I’m 21 and writing this blog post for a professional editing class! — but a young writer’s best bet is to work at an institution where style and grammar guides have been set in stone for dozens, if not hundreds of years. I know from personal experience that the time I spent writing for millennial media outlets was fun, but I don’t know if it did the best for developing my writing skills. Working for established magazines and newspapers, though, taught me that I still had a ways to go on developing my personal voice.

Millennials trying out these new publications are giving public writing a test run, and that’s okay. Like I’ve mentioned before, such experiences are crucial to developing good writers. Even test runs, though, have to be good, challenging experiences to make them growth and learning opportunities. Those challenges have to come from editors who can put the kibosh on poor word choices and bad ideas, to prevent an even more horrible baptism by fire from the general public. That Coachella ticket article I talked about earlier? You should have seen the kind of Tweets that viral article was generating.

My hope is that young media realizes how essential good editors are to boosting a publication. Clicks may get readers to the website, but it doesn’t mean that they’ll stay there. It also doesn’t mean that they think very highly of your publication — just that the publication has produced work that they’re interested in.

In the meantime, I’ll blanch every time I see another horrendous typo or the sixth version of “reasons why my sorority sisters are my ride-or-dies.”

 

Techniques for Drawing Inspiration

At a recent job interview, I was thrown a curveball of a question: “Who are your favorite nonfiction and fiction writers?”

Now, I’m a journalist by trade and a student by early mornings and nights. My limited free time is usually spent reading Refinery29’s Money Diaries, New York Times Magazine articles, Columbia Journalism Review profiles, and an ever-growing stack of New Yorkers. I rarely take notice of the byline over the headlines.

When I repeated the question to a professor of mine a few weeks after the interview, I tacked on that I spent much more of my time reading thick history tomes for class, rather than curling up with hot chocolate and a good fiction book. I didn’t have time to invest in a meaty fiction book. He didn’t have any of it.

“My task for you in the next few weeks before you graduate is to go to one of the bookstores in town and buy five fiction books,” he said, peering down at me like I was a child. “And read all of them before you graduate.” The implication was to take note of what I liked and didn’t like.

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Like a good student ignoring her real homework, I set forth on my journey. I’d bought a book by Bich Minh Nguyen when I was in Seattle over spring break, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner.  I devoured Stealing Buddha’s Dinner over two days, jotting down notes in a small blue notepad about what I liked. Nguyen introduces an idea or anecdote at the beginning of the chapter, goes off on a tangent, then circles back to it in the end. I also remembered what I didn’t like in fiction writing. True to the nature of fractured recollection of childhood and hardship, the chapters were hardly linear, jumping between when she was 5, 10, then 7 as she remembers different parts of her life.

While a non-chronological retelling is typically the bane of my existence as a reader, I was inspired by Nguyen’s decision to do so because of its similarities to journalism. In journalism, you stick to the inverted pyramid format, where the most important points take priority over a chronological recap. Nguyen did something similar with her work, revealing aspects of her childhood in a way that contextualizes her decisions.

I’ve been drawing the same kind of inspiration in the nonfiction world from staffers at the AtlanticNew Yorker, and New York magazine. A summer ago, I began my internship at San Francisco Magazine and fell in love with seemingly endless ways to craft a narrative. My scavenger hunt for unique writing styles led me to compelling female writers like Jia Tolentino of the New Yorker and Jessica Pressler of New York magazine.

Pressler’s most recent work for The Cut, New York‘s online women’s vertical, is a riveting story about a grifter named Anna Delvey, who cons her way into the semi-elite circles of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. While the subject herself is compelling, it is Pressler’s precise delivery that sells the story. Through a series of detail-filled retellings, I slowly built a grasp of who Delvey is and why she did what she did. At the beginning of the piece, I had no idea what Delvey is up to, and I wasn’t quite sure why I should care. Yet little by little, Pressler convinced me that this woman’s story was intriguing and unlike any other I had read before, even in my wildest fiction fantasies.

Unlike Nguyen’s work, Pressler’s story was semi-chronological, pinpointing the moment that Delvey first step foot in the hotel lobby that would come to be her home and ending with her surprising fall from grace. But even in the vivid descriptions of Supreme clothing and facials that cost more than three quarters’ of textbooks, I found purpose in every sentence Pressler cranked out. I rallied against the overuse of quotes in a podcast with fellow Professional Writing – Editing minor Jeremy Levine, and yet Pressler flipped my beliefs upside down by proving that every quote is a brushstroke in a painted portrayal of Delvey’s life. The story hovers around 7,800 words of pure narrative.

It’s funny to me that I like Nguyen’s and Pressler’s writing styles so much. As a journalist, I pride myself on writing succinct, clean copy. The most important point comes first. The quotes are for colorful enrichment. If it isn’t necessary to the readers’ understanding of the issue, it doesn’t belong.

And yet, Nguyen, Pressler, and so many more authors out there have mastered the technique of suspenseful storytelling. (It helps that both of them were either excellent self-editors or had such geniuses at their disposal, because the lack of typos make the pieces so easy to read.) They’ve developed the kind of writing I want to emulate some day: one where every word, even the most frivolous of them, has its purpose in a story.

That deep desire to become a better storyteller is born out of my decade-old dream to become a novelist chronicling the lives of the upper middle class and 1%. My brief brushes with creative writing have always stagnated with the same conclusion: I write a lot, but how often do I write with a clear end goal in mind? News writing has come so naturally to me because the challenge is to get to the point, but writing creatively as a journalist and hopeful novelist is much harder to get right. Using my powers of observation to glean those methods from other writers, though, will change that.

I’m still only one book into my five-book reading list (sorry, Paul), but I’ve already noticed more purpose and clarity in story outlines and writing structures. I’m learning to deviate from the rigid lines of journalism’s inverted pyramid format to pursue more narrative-driven stories. The last time I did something this scary was when I packed my bags and moved to San Francisco for an unpaid internship. Fear, though, drove me to the greatest heights when following my ambitions, and the resulting inspiration will keep me there.

 

Writing 151B

Coming into the Professional Writing Minor’s Editing Track, I was sure that this was going to be a breeze. I’ve been the top editor at The Bottom Line, one of UCSB’s student-run newspapers, for the last two years, in the process shepherding the paper to its first-ever national award. I knew how to edit. I knew I was good at it.

That is, until I joined the Writing Program as a minor.

Some of my first assignments for Writing 151A and B betray my confidence. While I might have been good at picking out newsworthy topics and turning exceptionally bad writing into passable content, the nuances of grammar and style eluded me. Nominalization what?

Over the last six months, I developed a more critical eye for writing mistakes, and in the process, the pieces I wrote and edited became much stronger. You can find my written work on the ‘Clips‘ tab of my website. My edited work is located underneath this prefatory material. If you want to read stories in my voice, consider reading my blogs. If you want to hear podcasts and radio stories in my literal voice, hit the ‘radio‘ tab. And if you’d like to connect via LinkedIn, Twitter, or email, you can find that information on my contact page.

Happy reading!


As a news intern with the Santa Barbara Independent, I covered lots of small events and big crimes in the south county area. Santa Barbara’s paper of record only has two full-time copy editors, who primarily edited the print issue and only addressed typos in online stories if someone pointed it out. I developed self-reliance on my own editing skills to ensure top-notch quality in the work I produced. No journalist likes losing credibility, and cleaning up spelling and style errors are the easiest ways to mitigate that.

Writ150 Sample 1

When I served as editor-in-chief of The Bottom Line, I was simultaneously a content and copy editor. While my primary role was to ensure that stories adhered to our standard of ethics and newsworthiness, I often found myself line-editing to make a piece readable before I could give meaningful edits. This meant changing months and days to adhere to AP Style and killing as much of the passive voice as possible. (To avoid alerting the original writer that I was re-editing their story for this portfolio, I copied and pasted the first draft to a new document to edit the story.)

Writ 151B Sample FINAL 1

In my limited spare time, I helped friends brainstorm and edit their cover letters. While this cover letter ultimately did not win the author an internship, it was an excellent exercise in considerate editing. It’s nervewracking to put yourself out there. Therefore, my goal in editing this piece was to help the writer concretely define their work and experience, and to prune the letter of vague and hedging language.

Writ 151B Synapse Example

Please, Just Hit F7

Unedited writing horrifies me. Not because it’s typically really bad, but because it shows a lack of care for the work people put out there.

It goes along with my thoughts on millennial media — people are more in need of good editors than they are of places to write. For mediums where there are no editors, though, people should really make a better effort to produce self-edited work.

This irritates me beyond belief even outside of my editorial stewardship at The Bottom Line, where I’m loath to receive articles and photo captions that haven’t been through a simple spellcheck. I’m a freelance writer and Yelp reviewer as well, and I see a lot of poorly proofread pieces on other mediums. Yelp is perhaps the biggest offender, because it’s a self-publish review website, and for some unknown reason, people don’t think about the conventions of grammar when typing up horror stories about Starbucks baristas.

Take these two reviews, for example. In the first one, a Yelper reviews a restaurant/banquet hall she visited for a birthday party.

Yelp Example 1 The pros: it’s short and sweet. The cons: it’s a little too short. With the exception of the last sentence, every clause is a fragment that offers a vague description of what the place is about. The final sentence is still a doozy: it’s missing an apostrophe, there’s an accidental double space, and it’s a run-on without a period.

Writ 151B Yelp ReviewThe second review is much longer and more descriptive than the first review, but it falls short in spelling and punctuation. The author fails to capitalize street names and business names, but capitalizes non-proper nouns. There are also some common misspellings in the review, such as ‘kf’ in place of ‘of’, and ‘reccomend’ instead of ‘recommend.’ Other misused phrases/words include ‘likewise to’ and ‘standout.’ Like the previous author, this writer also forgets to double-check for fragments, missing verbs, and sentences missing periods.

 

 

Yelp Example 2While the third review is briefer than its predecessor, the author really packs a punch with the word choices she makes. The sentences are, for the most part, intact and independent clauses. Although much more inspiring than the other reviews, she frequently repeats words and mixes present and past tense. Only about halfway in did I finally realize that the writer had nothing to say about the food or drink itself, other than describing the agua fresca as “yummy.” The writer also goes on a wild tangent about expiration dates that appears to have no actual relation to anything about the joint. Was she talking about agua fresca? Who knows.

I frequently run into these problems on Yelp. These are actually pretty good reviews in comparison to what I’ve seen floating around the website, but I picked them for this blog post because they exemplified two different styles of writing. They’re also both totally salvageable pieces.

How do you fix pieces like these? The method itself is simple: by typing your unedited work into a word processor like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you have unlimited access to spellcheck. Spellcheck is one of a computer’s greatest features, in my opinion. It underlines all your misspellings and fragments as you type, turning your document into a horrific mix of RGB colors until you resolve each problem. The F7 key will even tell you why you’re wrong so you can avoid the problem in the future. (Honestly, the pope should canonize spellcheck.)

Reading your writing aloud is also crucial to identifying fragments and missed parts of speech. We all know where we want to pause when we talk. We know when a sentence just doesn’t sound quite right. By

With time, your spelling and grammar skills can get better. Take it from me — English is my second language, technically. I still constantly mix up Chinese and English grammatical conventions and Google “subject-verb agreement” to make sure that I’m speaking correctly.

What’s harder, though, is convincing people that they should take pride in publishing well-written work. My argument is simple: when you publish a piece riddled with errors and filled with tangents, your reader has less incentive to trust you. So if you’re reviewing a coffee shop on Yelp, you’re clearly trying to convince people to either try or avoid the establishment.

“But why bother?,” you might argue. “They’re going to read it and get my point anyway. It’s just Yelp, chill.”

You’re right — it is just Yelp, which restauranteurs and food writers alike denounce for its subjective reviews. The problem, though, is that when over 70 million unique visitors troll Yelp for the hottest eats, your words can make a difference. Even if the platform is about the businesses in the end, it certainly doesn’t help them if the people who say it’s good have a questionable literacy level. And if your point is that the business sucks, well, people are less likely to believe someone who misspells “chow mein” as “ciao main.” If you don’t have an apparent understanding of what the restaurant is or what service a business provides, you probably shouldn’t be trusted.

People should — and do — care about their reputation online. Think about how carefully some of us curate our social media accounts, or how selective some are about what kind of work is published online. Just because Yelp is more ‘fun’ and ‘casual’ than an academic essay doesn’t give it any less meaning. In fact, its worldwide impact should really show its importance over a paper.

Design

The Love in Food

During a car ride back to my hometown, my driver asked me what I planned to do with a degree in history and sociology. “Journalism,” I said. “I like writing.”

“Oh? So you mean like, Yelp reviews?” I swore a glance passed between him and his girlfriend, who was riding shotgun.

“Uh, yeah, I do Yelp reviews…” I answered, confused that someone had asked me about a hobby that has little to do with the journalism industry, instead of the ubiquitous “what-newspaper-do-you-write-for” and “kinda-a-dying-industry-don’tcha-think.” Whatever it meant, it became a chance for me to make small talk past the terse “yeah, I’ll get hired someday. We’ll see.”

Food. It’s a comforting topic to me. A sentiment often expressed among my Asian American peers is that food is the way our families show love. My mom is the kind of person who occasionally tells me she loves me, but more frequently, asks if I’m hungry. In fact, when she arrives at my doorstep to visit, or greets me when I come home, the first words out of her mouth will be “have you eaten yet?”

I equate the concept of eating and presenting food to eat as both a display and labor of love. My boyfriend credits me for making him like sandwiches again after I took him to Fat Sal’s for a late lunch one day. My mom raved about Mexican and Cuban food the few times she let me pick where to eat out.

At the same time, watching each dish come out—whether it’s fresh off the flattop at In-N-Out or the only time I paid for high quality sushi—reminds me that for the thriving culinary industry to exist, millions of people work tirelessly during the process. Some are career restauranteurs who like putting fun flairs on food or finagling some strange gastro-chemistry dish. (See: the alarming quantity of perfectly good vegetables pureed into oblivion in fine dining.) Others might be immigrant families opening mom-and-pop joints to support a family with little-to-no transferable skills. Many more exist within the bubble, but it doesn’t overpower the fact that all of these people put in work to make sure food as we know it exists.

Sometimes, they love what they’re doing. But sometimes, they love something, or someone, so much that they’re doing what they’re doing for them.

As I sat there, rattling off dessert recommendations and where to find the best gyro in the San Fernando Valley, I realized that food is one of those few stress-free things that I can blab about to seemingly no end. People are now starting to ask about post-grad plans. There’s a limited range of emotions (uncertainty, frustration, sadness, anxiety) and a point-blank answer to those questions, most of which now end with “we’ll see.”

I can be certain about one thing, though. Ask me to tell you about food, and I’ll love to.