Feature Writing: What I Learned

If you regularly follow this blog, you will know that this past semester I was in a Feature Writing course. With dead week over and finals looming, here is a roundup of what I have learned.

First and foremost, this class reinforced my love of writing. I have always enjoyed creating stories, but turning that into a career seemed scary and impossible. This course showed me the opposite— that storytelling is alive and well. Despite the issues facing the journalism industry, writing will never die out, and I hope to be a writer someday.

The writing process seems very daunting when I sit down and try to begin it: reporting, writing, editing, more reporting. Stories are never finished and they can discourage me. However, I truly love and enjoy the act of writing and rearranging words to convey meanings.

This class also taught me the importance of convergence in the field of journalism. We were given iPads, which I previously thought were unnecessary. I now want one. It helps to look at content and how it is delivered in new forms, such as on a tablet. The present is a very exciting period of change for journalists, PR people and copy writers, and being able to use new media and devices is a truly significant step up in my knowledge of the industry. (Yet another reason Creighton’s JMC department is awesome.)

The third thing I learned in this class, and perhaps the most technical, is the craft of narrative. Narrative is an invisible structure that is never noticed by the causal reader. However, without it information is nearly impossible to present and comprehend.  Don’t believe me? Read this compelling narrative and recognize the incredible skill of the writer.

I loved everything about this class: the professor, the small size, my peers, the iPad, the assignments…I could go on forever. Someday when I am a famous writer or journalist I know I will look back on this course with fond memories and a sense of appreciation.

Music Review: Taylor Swift’s “Red” album

Love her or hate her, Taylor Swift has firmly cemented her way into popular culture. On her fourth album, Red, she reflects the changing state of her fans and her own musical influences.

The album cover for Taylor Swift’s fourth album, titled “Red.”

Why is the album named after a color? Swift, who is no stranger to writing about the ups and downs of love, explains in her liner notes. “My experiences in love have taught me difficult lessons, especially my experiences with crazy love,” Swift writes. “The red relationships. The ones that went from zero to a hundred miles per hour and then hit a wall and exploded.”

The casual listener will say that Swift has forgotten her country roots on this album. Simple observation can also play a role in this— gone are the days of Swift’s crazy curls and cowboy boots, replaced instead with straight locks and a mod 1960s look. However, her past three albums (Taylor Swift, Fearless and Speak Now) have been an evolution, leading up to Red, both in style and emotion. Most country influences seem to be gone, save for the occasional plucking of a guitar or banjo such as on songs like “Treacherous.” The song with that sounds the most like her work from her debut album is “Stay Stay Stay,” a peppy ballad.

This latest offering seems to be generally divided into two sections with separate themes. The beginning focuses on relationships that are ending, be they sad or angry or peaceful. The second half provides a look into the other side of relationships: moving on, accepting the truth and not letting love control you.

Swift’s musical experimentation is truly evident in many of the songs, including the lead single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” In that track, the beginning guitar riff is drowned out by a throbbing drum beat and hand claps, which is the perfect background to what is her anthem about staying broken up. In “I Knew You Were Trouble,” a dubstep section appears under the chorus. While it can seem like an unlikely pairing, the country-pop queen and underground electronica, the idea works and flows seamless and organically. The other track that provides the biggest departure from Swift’s body of previous work is “Starlight.” The sentiment of the song is similar to older songs, such as “Sparks Fly” or “Fearless.” However, from the beginning twinkling electronic piano riff to the distorted electric guitar, it is clear that Swift is looking to branch out and see how her fans react to her challenging herself musically.

Swift performing while sporting her new look, with sleek hair and 1960s inspired makeup.

Part of what makes Swift such a popular artist is her ability to relate to her audience. She conveys her message about teenage angst and magical love perfectly through her lyrics.  Swift doesn’t sing nonchalantly about love and loss; she makes the listener feel the pain. While the lyrics on her past albums have been powerful, Red truly has the best emotion. Heartbreak is best conveyed in “All Too Well,” in which she sings of remembering a past relationship, both the good and bad parts, ‘all too well.’ Swift, who wrote all of the songs on the album, writes and sings, “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it/
I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it…You called me up again just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest.” Her voice, tinged with desperation, makes these powerful words even more impactful.

Her lyrics also convey a sense of maturity that her previous records are missing. Instead of constantly playing the victim, Swift takes responsibility for her role in failed relationships, which is refreshing to the listener who complains about her so-called ‘whining.’ In “I Knew You Were Trouble,” Swift states, “I realize the blame is on me, cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in/So shame on me now….A new notch in your belt is all I’ll ever be/and now I see…I realize the joke is on me.”

Self-deprecation is also a common theme on this album and can be found in songs like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22.” This surprising interjection is something that conveys a sense of realism, that Swift really is a young adult who doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Overall, Red has the potential to be Taylor Swift’s most popular album, due to its high concentration of pop songs with wide-reaching appeal.  While country fans might be disappointed in the lack of ‘twang’ found in this record, die-hard Swift fans will appreciate her experimentation and profound lyrics.

Top Tracks:

Songs to Skip:

  • “Stay Stay Stay”
  • “Sad Beautiful Tragic”
  • “I Almost Do”

Diner Dispute: Omaha, Part 3- The Diner

I decided to find the best diner in the greater Omaha area, a quest that will not be easy or simple to finish. I will begin with reviewing three restaurants I visited recently. So sit back, put on your Elvis record and tuck in your napkin. It’s time for a blast from the past. See my post on the Hollywood Cafe here, and the one on the 11-Worth Cafe here.

The Old Market area in downtown Omaha is known for a plethora of restaurants, ranging from the fancy to the simple. Mexican, Indian, Pizzas— all sort of food is offered. Tucked in the corner across the street from Roja, The Diner is the place to go to get your pancakes in the Old Market.

Stepping into the simply named diner will provide a true blast from the past. Unlike the Hollywood Cafe, which is full of memorabilia, The Diner resembles what I can only image a true 1950s diner looked like. The red circular booths seem original, and the long counter and red bar stools look like any diner seen on television or in the movies. The most modern thing in the joint is a 1990s era television hung above the counter.

The exterior of The Diner, located in Omaha’s Old Market. Photo by William Pray for Omahype.com

Small touches make this restaurant seem very homey. Fresh flowers on the table, an old jukebox in the corner and a clear view of the kitchen show that The Diner is not trying to be anything it isn’t. Simple pencil drawings of Marilyn Monroe hung on the wall are the only artistic element in the interior.

The restaurant is rather small, with a handful of booths and some counter seating. Cheaply laminated menus are available at the table, but the main draw of the inside is the large menu hanging above the counter. The little white letters, sometimes crooked, seem to spell out a long and yummy history.

When I went to The Diner, I had chocolate chip pancakes and a vanilla milkshake. The server told me that they just began putting chocolate chips in their pancakes, which goes to show how traditional this restaurant is. The pancakes were large and cooked to perfection, the right mixture of puffy and heavy. The milkshake was very runny, very milk-based. I prefer the thicker shakes, probably due to the higher ice cream content, but this one was okay.

I wish that I would have been given more syrup, due to the large size of the pancakes. I also sampled their onion rings. They were decent— thickly cut with smooth coating.

The prices were good, but the portions at the 11-Worth cafe were larger, and a better deal I believe.

Drawbacks of The Diner aren’t many. The size is small, and I can imagine that the wait on a Sunday morning gets pretty long.  The food is good, but I wouldn’t wait a half an hour for it. While being one of the cheapest options in the Old Market, prices are slightly elevated over the other diners I visited, but that could just be because of the area it is located.

The interior of The Diner. Photo credit: William Pray for Omahype.com .

Despite the small space and slightly over-priced portions, this restaurant is awesome. It’s location and out-of-place look make it a true gem in the Old Market. The authentic, nothing-has-changed atmosphere will make any history buff or diner fanatic smile. It is not overdone, but a quaint reminder of a lost era of dining.

I would recommend this restaurant to old souls, who will love the interior and be moderately satisfied with the food. I also think visitors who are staying downtown and want a change from the fancier restaurants would really enjoy this diner. It would provide a nice, relaxing resting spot in between shopping or events in Omaha.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars. Recommend.

The Diner is located at 409 S 12th Street, Omaha, Neb. They do not have a website. Phone number: 402-341-9870. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Part three of a three part series. I hope you enjoyed my reviews of Omaha-area diners.