The MVJ Convention in NYC is just around the corner, and we are gearing up for a wonderful time of camaraderie, networking and fun!
On this episode of Sword and Pen, I spoke with army veteran and freelance journalist Cyrus Norcross, one of MVJ’s 2023 Top 10 Journalists of the Year. If you’re going to the convention you’ll get to meet him because he’ll be there!
Cyrus, an army ranger for six years before pursuing journalism, talks about his Navajo Nation heritage, his winning entry that earned him the journalist of the year award, and his passion for telling stories about the Indigenous community.
Cyrus, who now freelances for Indian Country Today, has been published in the Native News Online and the Navajo Times. He is a member of MVJ and the Indigenous Journalist Association.
I also want to remind you that every Sword and Pen episode now includes the MVJ Bulletin, which highlights stories published in the MVJ Newsletter, which is emailed to all of our members at the end of each month.
I encourage you to read this month’s newsletter because there are important links regarding the Oct. 5-7 convention. Want to volunteer at the convention? That link is there!
If you have an idea for a future episode topic, please let me know at [email protected].
And don’t forget to follow the monthly Sword and Pen podcast, published in the MVJ Newsletter and linked on the website under the About page.
Did you know the Sword and Pen podcast, first aired in November 2019, was intended to be a limited-run series? The first host, retired Army intelligence officer Jonathan House, announced that intention during his inaugural introduction to Sebastian Junger, a journalist and documentarian.
Since that first episode, there have been three other hosts, Rich Dolan, Drew Lawrence and me. Drew and I still co-host it, and we plan on keeping this great show going because we believe in the learning environment this podcast provides through the voices of our guests.
With that in mind, stick around for the end of this podcast because you’ll be able to hear Jonathan begin that first show during a special showcase of five memorable quotes gathered from past guests. It’s just one way to honor the continuation of the Sword and Pen.
According to Russell Midori, MVJ president and co-founder, the Sword and Pen mission is to highlight the achievements and ongoing innovations of military veterans in the journalism profession and provide valuable news to our community.
We bring back Russell on this podcast to promote the MVJ 2023 Convention in New York City in October. We also chat with MVJ Mentorship Program manager Simone Doroski and mentorship alumnus Jordan Sartor-Francis about a powerful program that pairs our members with journalism experts in the field.
Listen as we >
talk about the what’s happening at the convention this year … and there’s a lot!
tout the skills mentees learn from their mentors, and how it’s landed them jobs and internships
explain how to sign up to the mentorship program and the convention
I am also excited to announce a new feature in the Sword and Pen that highlights stories in the MVJ Newsletter. The MVJ Bulletin will be a regular segment near the beginning of each podcast.
If you have an idea for a future episode topic, please let me know at [email protected].
And don’t forget to follow the Sword and Pen, published in the MVJ Newsletter and linked in the website under the About page, each month on Spotify so you don’t miss an episode.
For this episode of the Sword and Pen, I sat down with four members of an Ohio Air National Guard public affairs (PA) office during their monthly drill on June 3, making it the first time in the short history of this podcast that we recorded a show from a military base.
As I drove through the gate of the 180th Fighter Wing near Toledo, Ohio, I felt a sense of nostalgia and pride because I retired from this unit 23 years ago. I worked out of the public office and was the editor of the unit’s newsletter, The Stinger.
The mission of the Sword and Pen is to inspire and educate our MVJ members. With that in mind, I reached out to the wing’s PA office last month to ask if they would share their own mission with us. After all, joining the guard or reserves after transitioning out of active duty is certainly a viable option for our members. It’s also beneficial to know the role of a PA office in case you need to reach out to them for a story you’re doing on any particular base, military member or issue.
On this episode, you will hear three enlisted airmen and one officer share their personal stories of how and why they got into the public affairs field and what their duties are.
Sword and Pen host Lori King, from top left, chats with Staff Sgt. Kregg York, Maj. Matt Eck and Airman First Class Sarah Stalder-Lundren at the 180th Public Affairs Office in Swanton, Ohio on June 3. (Photo by Airman First Class Nick Battani)
Senior Master Sgt. Beth Holliker, the full-time public affairs superintendent and chief enlisted manager keeps the shop running smoothly. She joined the unit as a photographer just two months before I retired.
Award-winning photographer and public affairs specialist Staff Sgt. Kregg York helps train the staff in all things multimedia. He graduated from DINFOS as a broadcast specialist. He’s created his own distance learning course on photography, and it’s open to anyone who wants to learn the craft of photography.
Public affairs specialist Sarah Stalder-Lundren, is a recent graduate from the Defense Information School’s mass communication course. She works in human resources in her civilian job.
Public affairs officer Maj. Matt Eck was a weapons loader in the 180th prior to transferring to the public affairs office. He is also the director of video production for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
We chatted about their social media policies, the skills they honed while at the Defense Information School (DINFOS), the value they gain from working in the 180th PA office, and much more.
The 180th FW is home to F-16 Fighting Falcon jets, and we were fortunate to hear the loud thunder of jet engines roar over us during the podcast recording. And yes, you can hear the jets in the podcast. It’s quite a sound.
Back in 2013, a year before Snapchat added video capability and the same year Instagram launched video sharing, the Chicago Sun-Times decided to jump on that video bandwagon. But rather than rely on skilled photographers to provide quality video, the Sun-Times canned their entire photo staff and forced its reporters to shoot video using iPhones.
Visual journalist Anthony Vazquez poses for a portrait at the Chicago Sun-Times, Tuesday, June 23, 2020. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
It was a bold and unprecedented move that sent shock waves and panic throughout the photojournalism world. It was the first time that photojournalists, including myself, realized we could be replaceable in newsrooms. I remember that day well because we were fearful that we could be next.
It’s been 10 years since that bad decision, and I’m still teaching about that mass layoff in my photojournalism
classes at the University of Toledo and Wayne State University (Detroit). I do not want history to repeat itself.
So, when I met marine veteran Anthony Vazquez at last year’s MVJ convention in Washington D.C. and he told me he was a photojournalist at the Chicago Sun-Times, I immediately invited him to be a guest on the Sword and Pen podcast. There was no better person to give our Sword and Pen listeners an update on that situation.
On this episode of Sword and Pen, Vazquez certainly talks about how the Sun-Times currently deals with video, but we mostly chat about his life as a “small town Iowa boy” who enlisted in the marines as a landing support specialist after community college and ended up at one of Chicago’s two competing newspapers.
Vazquez describes the moment he realized he wanted to be a journalist. It was in Afghanistan, and he had witnessed a horrific scene: a local Afghan boy whose leg was blown off by an IED. He watched as the boy’s younger brother frantically ran after him.
“That was his brother, and he was crying and trying to keep up with him as he was carried away on a stretcher by Afghan soldiers,” Vazquez recalled.
A bloodied fan talks back to officers after being injured by police officers after Mexico’s victory celebration in Mexico City, Sunday, June 17, 2018. Mexican fans celebrated around the Angel of Independence monument after Mexico’s victory over Germany in the World Cup. (AP Photo/Anthony Vazquez)
“He was in his flip flops, running across the rocks, and I just remember that whole scene made me realize that we’re here for a certain reason, that we’re impacting the lives of other people,” Vazquez said. “I wanted to write about what was going on in Afghanistan at the time and how war was impacting the locals. That’s what got me interested in journalism.”
It was a defining moment that inspired Vazquez to leave the military to attend journalism school at the University of Iowa. Though his initial intention was to be a writer, he took a few photo classes and joined the school newspaper, The Daily Iowan, which led him to pursue visual journalism instead.
He also talks about how his military experience played a key role in covering one of his first big breaking news stories for the Associated Press in Mexico; makes a case for veterans working in newsrooms; and explains how he went from working at a grocery store to becoming a member of Report for America.
Thanks to a new partnership with Wreaths Across America Radio, Military Veterans in Journalism’s podcast “Sword & Pen” will now be featured alongside the online station’s other veteran-centric broadcast content.
“‘Sword & Pen’ is a great addition to our line up,” said Jeff Pierce, Director of Broadcast and Media Partnerships for Wreaths Across America. “As a ‘Voice for America’s Veterans’, the addition of shows like ‘Sword & Pen’ provides another layer of depth to our selection of content designed to inform and provide resources for our Veterans. As Wreaths Across America Radio continues to support and further the mission of Wreaths Across America, we are always looking for more content like ‘Sword & Pen’ that will continue to help veterans-related organizations with their mission.”
Sword & Pen, launched in late 2019 with MVJ Webmaster Rich Dolan as host, is a once-monthly podcast that provides educational and career tips for military veterans interested in journalism. Now helmed by co-hosts Drew Lawrence and Lori King, Sword & Pen episodes feature interviews with military veterans already in the field, journalism educators, and other supporters of increasing newsroom diversity through hiring and promoting veterans. Podcast guests share their stories, what they think veterans can bring to newsrooms, and their advice for those looking to get started as journalists and military veterans during each episode.
“When MVJ started in 2019, Sword & Pen was one of the first programs where we could spotlight vets in the news industry while providing advice to those who weren’t sure where to start,” said Zack Baddorf, MVJ Executive Director. “We are thrilled to partner with Wreaths Across America Radio to share Sword & Pen alongside their variety of programming that helps America’s veterans. We hope each month’s episode can be useful to military veterans in journalism nationwide.”
The new content sharing partnership begins this week, with Sword & Pen playing on Mondays at 10 AM, Saturdays at 8 PM, and again Sundays at 7 PM Eastern. Wreaths Across America Radio’s 24/7 stream can be accessed anytime and anywhere on the iHeart Radio app, Audacy app, TuneIn app, or at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/radio.
Military Veterans in Journalism is a professional association that builds community for vets, supports their career growth, and advocates for diversifying newsrooms through hiring and promoting more vets. Learn more at www.mvj.network.
About Wreaths Across America Radio
Wreaths Across America Radio is a 24/7 Internet stream. Its unique format provides informational and inspiring content about members of the U.S. armed forces, their families, military veterans, and volunteers throughout the country and overseas who support the mission to Remember, Honor and Teach. Along with the inspiring content, Wreaths Across America Radio plays a variety of music with roots firmly planted in patriotism and a country music thread running through the core of the stream. Wreaths Across America Radio has a live morning show every weekday morning from 6 am to 10 am ET, along with a variety of special programs that support the mission.
Nor should leads begin with dates, names or quotes – if you can help it.
A lead sentence is the beginning of a news story, and if you start with any of the aforementioned ways, then I probably won’t read past the first paragraph.
I’m not the only one turned off by weak leads. Ameriforce Media associate editor Kari Williams recently Tweeted, “Full disclosure: If I start to read a story and the lede begins with a question or is an “Imagine” lede, I will immediately stop because I’ve lost all interest.”
Ameriforce correspondent Lucretia Cunningham replied, “Especially if it’s a yes or no question. My answer is always “no” and my reading stops there (insert laughing emoji).”
I believe a lead sentence is one of the most important parts of a story, and a topic worthy of a podcast. It takes skill and savvy to get a reader past the first few lines of a story, and nobody knows that better than Roy Peter Clark, of the Poynter Institute.
Clark, an author, journalist and educator, has made it his mission to rate the best Pulitzer Prize lead sentences for the past six years, so I chose him to shine a light on this underrated art form in the March episode of Sword and Pen.
“If the lead is a gold coin, it shouldn’t be the only gold coin in the story. It should be the first of maybe two or three,” he said.
So, what does he consider a golden lead sentence?
“When they heard the screams, no one suspected the rooster.”
Curious as to why a rooster would be considered as the prime suspect in an investigative story? If the answer is yes, then the writer did her job. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear the rest of the story.
During this 50:26-minute podcast, Clark masterfully expanded beyond lead sentences. He dropped several golden nuggets of writing advice as he wove an instructional tale of how to craft a solid story; gave us a sneak peek into his writer’s workbench; and instructed us on the various moves he makes when trying to engage readers throughout a story, like leading someone into a story without telling them exactly what it’s about.
Clark also divulged one of his favorite (yet embarrassing) lead sentences, explained how he juggles AP and APA style as an author and journalist, and proudly touted the Poynter Institute, which he deems one of the most important influential schools for journalists and democracy.
Lori King, the author of this piece, is a member of MVJ and co-host of the Sword & Pen podcast. She is an adjunct photojournalism instructor, a producer for the ONPA Buckeye Visualist podcast, and a retired military journalist.
Military Veterans in Journalism is a proud member of the Institute for Nonprofit News.