michael koretzky

Taking I-95 to the #DeathRace

What’s an Orlando student journalist have to do to get some innovation and inspiration in her writing life?

Drive three and a half hours to Fort Lauderdale (thanks for sucking, Mid Florida SPJ. But more on that later).


This weekend I was able to be a part of Death Race, an event held by SPJ’s South Florida Pro Chapter. I first became associated with them through the Will Write For Food 2012 program that I was a part of this past Labor Day weekend (and I urge everyone to sign up for).

Death Race was a kind of hands-on training on writing obituaries. It’s rare the case when a j-school professor goes in depth about writing obituaries, since it’s not such a popular beat for reporters to want to cover.

Miami Herald obit writer Elinor Brecher, talked to us about her career writing obituaries and advised us on how to write them. The prize? An urn with the newspaper ashes.

Oh, and three journalists died.

Well, not really.

But these three South Florida SPJ board members volunteered to die for the day, you know, for authenticity: Gideon Grudo (managing editor at South Florida Gay News), Mariam Aldhahi (an art director with Forum Publishing Group) and Cassie Morien (web editor at Boca Raton Magazine).

And if that wasn’t eerie enough, their family, friends and colleagues were invited to speak about them in a creepy chapel, in front of a coffin, two urns, floral arrangements and pictures of the young journalists.


Here are some of the obit writing tips that I wrote down when Elinor spoke:

1. Be sensitive to the nuance of people grieving. Be patient and compassionate.

2. Know your audience. What may fly with one family, might not fly with the next.

3. Writing obituaries IS journalism–get the right facts (research).

4. Figure out why the person you’re writing about is obit worthy? The 5W’s aren’t enough.

5. Watch out for cliches (“He was so nice. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”).

6. Listen carefully for nuggets of info. The person sharing their story might not think its important, but that could potentially be your lede.

I decided to write my obit on Mariam, but the problem was that her family lives in freakin’ Dubai. Just yesterday (I’m not even kidding) I was telling my friend that I don’t know anyone that has even lived or been in Dubai. I called her uncle in Cali and we spoke for a bit and he gave me enough information about her that I could use.

Long story short: I didn’t win the obituary contest, but I realized that writing them isn’t easy. I was originally going to approach it like a feature story (which I should have done), but I doubted myself and wrote a basic boring skeleton of an obit. Its really hard to approach a story about someone dying and make it into a nice piece that people can reflect on. So much pressure!

I am interested in continuing to practice writing them (weird) so friends: Beware. You’re all my next targets.

On another topic, I quickly want to touch on the SPJ Mid Florida Chapter run by interim  president, Bobbi O’Brien. That’s the chapter that Orlando falls under and unfortunately that includes me.

Whenever I am interested in expanding my career as a journalist or simply just learning something new, I don’t have the luxury of having a good pro chapter. Our student chapter at UCF, run by journo professor Rick Brunson, is great. We get a lot of guest speakers and internship fairs, which I’ve benefitted from. But our pro chapter is ridiculous.

I decided to look up our pro chapter on Facebook and this is what I got.

That is probably the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. The 23 member open group (so that means I can see their SPJ chapter plans) lacks creativity and innovation. It doesn’t pull and attract potential journalists.

The last post was on January 9th about the “revival” of the chapter in which O’Brien invited everyone for appetizers and drinks. If I had the option of going to this or driving three hours for free food and actually learning stuff, I’d do the latter (oh wait, that’s exactly what I did this weekend).

One of O’Briens’ posts from November 28, 2012 reads:

“Looking Long range: A workshop on social media bringing journalists up to speed on Twitter, Facebook, Storify, Pinerest, Tumblr, etc […]. Boots camps… on computer assisted reporting [and] social media […]. Create a local public records event to incorporate Tampa Bay media and SPJ college chapter students.”

I could probably give O’Brien a lesson on social media so that we could do something about that terrible group, lack of Facebok fan page, lack of website, lack of Twitter, etc. It’s ironic that these are all her ideas for journalism workshops but our chapter doesn’t implement any of these things.

All these ideas were suggested because on November 19, 2012 she posted:

“URGENT: All Mid-Florida SPJ members past, present and hopefully future!

Michael Koretzky, former president of the South Florida SPJ, current president of the Florida College Press and SPJ Region 3 director, has sent me several emails this morning demanding that I close the Mid-Florida Chapter account and mail him the check.

The Mid-Florida chapter received no prior notices of Mr. Koretzky’s intentions or this demand. The National SPJ membership officer and president have been copied on Mr. Kroetzky’s emails. But I have not heard from them yet.

I ask for input IMMEDIATELY and a meeting to review Mr. Kroetzky’s emails and demands.

Please share this information with all the journalists in the Mid-Florida Chapter region. So we can formulate a response and show that the Mid-Florida Chapter is still viable.”

First… see, Koretzky? I’m not the only idiot that misspells your name.

Second of all,  they SHOULD have taken the money because previous to that post, on October 3rd, 2012, someone posted: “Does this chapter hold meetings? Trying to find information but it looks outdated.”


Holy crap my brain just imploded! What does this chapter do all year? Where exactly does the money go to? Appetizers and drinks? It’s so outdated I almost heard a dial-up tone going off.

After I graduate and become and alumna, I’ll probably still be a part of UCF’s SPJ, but I can’t attend internship fairs forever, so that’s why I wish our chapter was more active. It’s important for someone like me, who just decided to become a journalist not so long ago, to have a chapter to keep me active and current with things I should know.

I’d rather have this Mid Florida Chapter be closed than continue in mediocrity.

It’s embarrassing.


Georgia conned the cake off of me

This weekend I am part SPJ’s Will Write For Food 2012 team.

That’s me in the white tank top, looking confused. (photo cred: Mike Rice)

Will Write For Food is a program in which 20 student journalists from around the nation get to take over the Homeless Voice (the second-largest homeless newspaper in the country) for the weekend.

Honestly, I can’t believe that it’s already Labor Day weekend. I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I remember reading a blog post about this program Labor Day 2011, being pissed off that I wasn’t a part of it and then reminding myself every day/week/month to update my resume and clips so that I would be able to apply this year.

On March 8th, the day that the time period to apply opened, I applied. On March 26th Michael Koretzky, the program’s advisor, e-mailed me back.

Damn, that was fast. Sorry for taking a week to get back with you. But
truly, no one’s ever applied for Will Write for Food this quickly.
(It’s still not a very popular program, for obvious reasons.) […]

But either way it goes, this is damned impressive.

I really wanted to be a part of this.

Yesterday, my classmate Sarah Aslam and I drove down to Miami from Orlando and got to the Ramada on Hollywood Blvd. We met our advisors, previous WWFF participants, the national president of SPJ John Ensslin and Michael Koretzky.

Then we went to the COSAC homeless shelter and met its founder and director, Sean Cononie.

It was small, it smelled weird, there were way too many people, people were coughing, there was hand sanitizer everywhere and there sat Georgia.

Georgia is a tiny elderly woman who lives at the shelter. One of the WWFF girls, Cayla Nimmo went to help her stand up from a bench. When Georgia shuffled her way into the shelter’s tiny cafeteria, Cayla and I sat on the floor and talked to her. It was very hard to understand her because she spoke so low and she was losing her hearing.

At first, Cayla and I thought Georgia was deaf because she signed “thank you” and “you’re welcome” to us. I attempted to sign our names to Georgia but she said that she didn’t know sign language–she reads lips.

“This is a sign that everybody knows,” she said and proceeded to flick off both Cayla and I. My grin was probably wider than anything in the world. This lady is awesome.

I wandered off to get food after talking to Georgia for a little bit. Lunch consisted of pasta with some sort of pale, tasteless meat. I thought it was chicken. Chase Cook thought it was turkey. Eleanor Roy thought it was tuna. Whatever.

I decided to eat my cake, the only thing that didn’t look questionable on my plate. Georgia eyed me picking at the cake and asked me if I was going to finish it. I looked down, sighed and said she could have it.

I looked at her tray as I plopped my cake onto it. She had three other pieces of cake.

A staff member from the shelter came up to Georgia and said, “Georgia! You’re not supposed to be eating cake!” He shook his head and walked away. I looked down, embarrassed, since I didn’t mean to get her in trouble.

Georgia winked at me, smiled and whispered, “It’s okay.”

Then she ate her cake.