A writer’s guide to de-stressing

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Writers often experience a tremendous amount of anxiety. They balance writing, interviews, social media and deadlines, all while keeping up with current events. Before pulling your hair out or overdosing on caffeine, check out some of these foolproof ways to manage and relieve stress.

  • Go for a 10-minute walk

According to a scientifically-based article from the Huffington Post, walking naturally releases endorphins that reduce stress hormones. Walking through a park or another green space works even better, as it can

  • Visualization 

HuffPost also listed visualization techniques as a method for alleviating stress. Simply picture a relaxing situation. This is your “happy place” – a peaceful spot in your imagination. Envision yourself basking in the sun on the beach or walking through the woods. This daydream can be anything you want, but remember to visualize a calm situation.

  • Music

Music is my personal solution to angst and worriment. Turn on your favorite upbeat tunes and jam out. I find that positive, bouncy or bass-filled music is the best way to recapture cheerful spirits. If you’ve been working for a while, music can liven up a dreary office atmosphere and in turn bolster your attitude and productivity. As an online, mobile and tablet service, Spotify offers users free mood music. I highly recommend the “Re-Energize,” “The Happy Hipster” and “Creativity Booster” channels.

  • Take care of yourself 

This is easier said than done. When feeling intense pressure, it can be tempting to put yourself last. However, Every Day Health recommends prioritizing relationships, physical activity, as well as healthy eating and sleeping habits. Perpetually ignoring your own physical and mental needs for work can actually increase your stress levels.

You can also make to-do lists, delegate tasks or take a short break from your laptop. Be careful not to take on too many stories or too much work. If stress is ruling your life instead of you, take the time to reevaluate your situation.

 

Open records laws are a joke in Alabama

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I recently attended a speech by Dennis Bailey, a Montgomery attorney who has been involved in media law since 1980, on open records and open meeting laws in Alabama. To phrase it mildly, I am utterly disturbed and equally horrified with transparency in my home state and the country.

According to the Alabama Public Records Law, “Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute.”

Bailey pointed out that our very brief state law leaves much to the imagination, in contrast to extensive federal FOIA requirements. In-state guidelines are quite vague as to when documents must be released after the initial request is made and who should fill these requests.

In addition, the state’s governmental website A.L.I.S.O.N., or Alabama Legislative System Online, does not promote easy navigability and is of poor quality. The site’s search feature is particularly problematic, and public documents are difficult to find.

A.L.I.S.O.N. was made for legislators and the legislative staff, not everyday citizens. Stephen Jackson developed OpenBama as an easy tool for non-legislative citizens.

“Ideally government should be proactive at transparency and not reactive,” Jackson said. “Government tends to view the data it collects as belonging to them and not to the public.”

Public universities also prove problematic. The latest crime report from the University of Alabama is from 2012. Actual crime statistics are buried about 40 pages into the 100-page document. The reader must first sift through paragraph upon paragraph of public relations fluff on how the university encourages campus safety and well-being. And then (Thank you, Lord!) the arrest numbers appear.

I’m writing a story on the incidence of heroin use among students in the area. This document states that 103 arrests were made on campus in 2012 for drug violations. A tiny little chart that was inserted into the text informs me of this. I can’t tell you how annoying this is. Those first 40 pages of heartwarming positivism told me everything I needed to know. Oh, wait! They didn’t. I need information on which drug violations occurred. But I guess I can get that information from the Campus Police department itself. Oh, wait! I have to go through the one public relations official that filters reporters for the entire university. Or I could submit a FOIA request that might take days to get.

Furthermore, a recent report from the Sunshine Review, a non-profit organization that tracks and measures the nation’s availability of government data, gave Alabama the grade of “C”on overall government transparency. Not one state in the country scored an A.

Being a jack of all trades: Ensuring job security

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In the wake of what has come to be known as “backpack journalism,” the average reporter now serves as writer, copy editor, photographer, graphic designer and html coder, all rolled in one.

Fantastic writing alone no longer cuts it. In order to be marketable journalists, we must diversify our skill sets. Check out some of the free educational tools I listed below that can help writers stay valuable in this unstable industry.

  • Html Coding

Basic html coding is easy to learn and looks great on a resume. Html, or Hyper Text Markup Language, is a technical language for creating web pages. The right-brained spirit in us cowers at the sight of html text, which initially looks like several scary lines of gibberish.

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Thankfully, Code Academy, an educational program that teaches html, is an easy and free way to learn coding while beefing up your resume. Another html platform, Python, teaches users to simplify and condense code. This program is for more sophisticated coders. Use the easier Code Academy courses as a stepping stone to Python.

  • Resources

The Poynter Institute offers ten online tools for journalists that are pretty sweet. These include FOIA Machine, which posts hard-to-find public records and Public Insight Network, which serves as a source-finding engine. Just to name a few.

  • Copy Editing

No2Pen, a writing and editing blog, suggests that all copy editors should keep a condensed stylesheet handy when reviewing their work. Print out No2Pen’s free stylesheet template to facilitate your copy editing.

No2Pen also has a free proofreading checklist that users can review before submitting their work.

  • Photography

Fotor is a photo editing site that offers  free services, from basic editing to special effects. “PC Magazine” also offers ten basic photography tips for starters, including advice on lighting and exposure. A great way to measure your progress in photography is by uploading your photos to the image hosting site Flickr. You can edit your photos and view the evolution of your technique by comparing them over periods of time. It’s a popular website for users to embed and share personal photographs in the online community. Bloggers can also host images that they embed in social media and blogs.

  • Video

In addition to hosting photos, Flickr acts as a video hosting site that offers editing tools and storage space for your work. Check out Flickr’s “Explore Video” tool to find out more.

You might be a jack of all trades and a master of none, but you these tools can amp up your journalistic game and make your resume stand out.