Reader’s Digest used to have short anecdotes, quotes or stories of wisdom at the end of their articles in their magazines. They probably still do, but I haven’t picked up a Reader’s Digest magazine since high school (so it’s been…what, five or six years?).
I remember once reading a short paragraph-long story about Jay Leno and the jokes in his monologues. Leno said that, when writing and presenting jokes, he’d avoid word repetition.
For example, instead of using the word “car” three times in a joke — or three times over the course of two jokes — he’d mix things up, calling it an “automobile” one of those three times.
This kept the joke and the story from going stale, as repetition sometimes does.
For some reason, this stuck with me. I find myself challenged when it comes to avoiding repetition in my writing. I cringe if I have to use the word “fire” or “firefighters” more than twice in any given story.
But I think the word repetition rule is one that helped me become a better journalist.
Imagine being able to give out one phone number to sources and clients that would ring every phone you own, increasing your availability for scoops and story ideas while keeping your actual phone numbers private.
A few years ago, a service called GrandCentral launched with one big idea: One phone number that can reach all of your physical handsets, including your desk phone, your cell phone and your home phone. In 2009, Google purchased Grandcentral and relaunched the service as ‘Google Voice,’ and recently the service was taken out of its invitation-only state and became available to anyone who had a Google account (if you have a Gmail or YouTube username, you have a Google account).
Why journalists should use Google Voice:
- It’s free: The core features of Google Voice (a phone number, text messages, voice mail, etc) are free.
- It’s like a real phone number: Google Voice gives you tons of features you probably already use on your home or cell phone, including the ability to receive calls, text messages and voice mail.
- One number for all phones: Give out one phone number to your sources that rings your personal cell, work cell and desk phone at the same time.
- Privacy: Don’t feel comfortable handing out your cell phone number or printing it on business cards? Hand out your Google Voice number and be reached wherever you are — your contacts, sources and clients won’t ever need to know your actual phone numbers. Stick it on your business cards and your email signature without fear.
- Annoyance Control: Contact or client bugging you non-stop? Google Voice has options to send them straight to voicemail or block them outright. Don’t want to receive phone calls at home during certain hours? Google Voice will let you schedule certain numbers for certain times.
- Second area code: Let’s say you live in the 530, but work in the 916. Go local where you work or live by signing up for Google Voice.
- Changing physical phone numbers: What if you move from one job to another? Just change your desk number, house number or work cell phone number (or all three) in Google Voice and your contacts move right along with you.
- Respond to texts at your desk: The Google Voice website will let you send and receive free text messages from within the website itself.
What Google Voice Can’t Do:
- Multimedia messages: You can’t currently receive picture or video messages through Google Voice, but that’s soon changing. Sprint users can currently receive MMS messages by email through Google Voice.
- Keep your phone number hidden via Caller ID: Well, it can, but not if you’re straight-up using your phone. The Google Voice website and app both have options to call out using your Google Voice number, but there’s currently no native way to call using just your phone via Google Voice, so if you use your personal cell phone or home phone quite a bit for work purposes, it might be a good idea to research ways to block your phone number from going out via Caller ID.
Advanced Google Voice features for journalists (or, really, anyone):
- Cell phone number porting: Don’t want a brand-new Google Voice number? You can port your existing cell phone number to Google Voice. There is a one-time $20 charge for Google Voice porting.
- Vanity numbers: When you sign up for a Google Voice number, you can enter a short word or collection of letters that will coincide with the numbers on a keypad. My Google Voice number ends in “5895,” which coincided with the call letters of my old station “KTXL.” Shorter keywords/letters yield more phone number results; if you can’t find a phone number with the keyword you want, try a different area code.
- Change your Google Voice number. Change newsrooms? You’ll probably want to change that vanity phone number. For $10, Google Voice will allow you to change your phone number while keeping your old number active for three months. Want to keep your original Google Voice number permanently? Google Voice will let you do that too for $20.
- Pick up a call in one spot, end it in another: Out in the field when you get a call on your cell phone? Transfer it to your desk phone when you get back into the newsroom by pressing *. Your other phones linked to your Google Voice account will ring. Pick up the phone and pick up where you left off.
- Record your call as an MP3: Press 4 during a call to record it as an MP3. An announcement will be heard on both ends when recording is activated. You can then download the call from within the Google Voice website the next time you log in.
I’ve been working at a certain television station in San Francisco for a few months now, and during those few months of work there have been a couple of times when I’ve met people and wished I had business cards to hand out.
Rather than ordering some business cards through the station, I decided to take matters into my own hands and design my own. After about an hour, the end result was this:
These are what I’m calling “Living business cards:” Simple cards that contain a quick reference or QR code in place of a logo or mugshot. When scanned, the QR code above links to http://qr.matthewkeys.net, which at the moment redirects to my main website but in the future could redirect anywhere I’d like. Eventually, I’d like to design a special landing page for mobile phones and tablets that, when scanned, contain my phone number, mailing address, email address and so on.
QR codes bring a whole new level of interactivity to business cards and other kinds of promotional material. One could place a QR code on their business card to link to their Facebook page or online resume. News organizations could start placing them on promotional index cards, where the code links to their mobile news site or links to the iTunes store for app downloads.
I built my QR code here and designed them through Zazzle.com. The total cost was around $20, which included shipping, for a box of 100 on plain white cards.
The future of journalism is filing reports straight from the field and being connected everywhere at every time, but your wireless provider could have a lot to do with how much you spend on your bill each month.
Telecommunication companies realize the strain Twitter, UStream and mobile video are putting on their networks, and rather than building new networks to accommodate the 21st Century user, some companies like AT&T and Verizon have decided to gouge customers by limiting the amount of data a person can upstream and downstream and, in some cases, severely reducing speeds once a person reaches a certain amount of data consumption in a month.
That makes being an innovative journalist difficult. One might be dissuaded to break out their mobile phone at the scene of a crime for a live stream if they’re worried they’ll be charged for going over their allotted bandwidth. But not all hope is lost, for there do exist some service providers with good data deals.
Here’s a handy breakdown of what some of the biggest companies offer in terms of data plans:
- AT&T Wireless: Formerly known as “Cingular” and “AT&T Wireless,” the mobile phone giant stopped offering unlimited data plans for its smartphone customers. Currently, data plans go for $15 for 200 MB or $25 for 2GB, with charges if you exceed that. Those who were customers during the unlimited period ($30 monthly) are grandfathered in, but may find their speeds reduced with large data consumption. Still, if you want to make a call while surfing the Internet on your iPhone, AT&T is the way to go.
- Verizon Wireless: Like AT&T, Verizon recently dropped its unlimited data package, instead offering tiered packages. 2GB of data is cheaper than AT&T’s by $5 ($20 monthly), but you won’t be able to send a tweet while calling in a breaker as Verizon’s network can’t handle data and phone calls simultaneously. Still, it’s becoming the choice (and more reliable) company for iPhone lovers. Verizon also offers the next generation in data: 4G, giving it an advantage over AT&T.
- T-Mobile: The offshoot of Deutsche Telekom takes a different approach to data. T-Mobile still has data allotments, with 2GB starting at $39, but the company won’t charge you if you go over that allotment. Instead, they slow down your speed from 4G to something significantly less than 3G. You can avoid this by opting for their 5GB or 10GB plans (at $50 and $80 respectively). You can use your 3G iPhone on T-Mobile, but only if you purchase it unlocked; better go with an Android or a MiFi hotspot device instead.
- Sprint: The only company to offer completely-unlimited data and phone calls through it’s Sprint and Nextel network. That sounds great, until you consider two things: Sprint has the smallest footprint of any of the big four mobile phone companies, and the most-advanced phones in Sprint’s lineup are their Android or Blackberry-powered devices. You can’t use an iPhone on Sprint (thuogh Sprint does offer a battery pack with built-in data technology for the iPod Touch). Still, a Sprint personal hotspot device is not a bad option for people who want unlimited connections to their iPad or other tablet.
Other good options for the budget journalist: The Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 at $129, with no contract and plans starting at $10 and any smartphone offered by Metro PCS, with unlimited 4G connectivity starting at $60 a month.