What Is Media Bias? | 5 Questions To Help You Identify Bias in a News Story

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my five years working in media, it’s that journalists are human—flaws and all. And humans, as many researchers argue, are inherently biased.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that every newspaper is unreliable or that every article you read is worthy of a “fake news” label. But even Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists don’t get the facts right all the time, and sometimes, it’s what they don’t say that makes all the difference.

It’s easy to find a news source that seems credible and slip on your rose-colored glasses, content to take their reporting as straight fact. But as consumers of media in the digital age, it’s our responsibility to be diligent and ask questions about our sources—and our sources’ sources. Who’s behind the words you see on the screen? Where did they get their information from? And what lens are they looking at this issue through? (Spoiler alert: It’s not always rosey.)

If you want to be a more informed reader and ensure you’re not being duped by slanted copy, keep reading.

Continue reading “What Is Media Bias? | 5 Questions To Help You Identify Bias in a News Story”

A Professional Editor’s Favorite Journals and Planners — 5 Notebooks I Use Every Day

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, and this post contains affiliate links. If you click any of these links and make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own and can’t be bought. Thanks so much for supporting me and my blog! (Click here for more info.)

“You don’t need to take notes,” one esteemed lecturer told me and others in the crowd ahead of a highly anticipated presentation on digital publishing. “I’ll send you a PDF of this slideshow.”

I soon found myself in a sea of side-eye when I—undeterred—took out my notebook and recorded the date in the upper right-hand corner.

My mother has accused me of being an “old soul,” and perhaps it’s just a quirk of my personality that I’m keen on pen and paper, but I’m not alone. A 2014 study from researchers at Princeton and UCLA, previously cited in a July 2017 guest post on my blog, showed that taking notes by hand helps with retention in the classroom—largely, they say, because the physical note-taking process forces the listener to actively synthesize, process, and reframe the information being presented.

“The more deeply information is processed during note taking, the greater the encoding benefits,” researchers Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer reported.

If you’re like me, and the majority of the participants in Mueller and Oppenheimer’s study, then taking notes helps you better understand and recall new information—and you’re going to want the right tools for the job. As a freelance writer and editor, here are my five favorite notebooks, journals, and planners—the ones I use on a daily basis and simply can’t live without:

Continue reading “A Professional Editor’s Favorite Journals and Planners — 5 Notebooks I Use Every Day”

15 Questions You Should Ask The Landlord Before Signing A Lease

Disclaimer: Opinions published on ShellyRawlings.com do not reflect the opinions of my employers or clients and are not intended to be taken as legal or financial advice or other professional counseling (I am not a lawyer—I’m a writer). For more information on this and other terms and conditions, click here.

When my husband and I were looking for our first home, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

After deciding we wanted to rent for a few years before purchasing a home of our own, we toured houses with broken windows, missing bathrooms, and ceilings so low my husband—who stands at a solid six-foot-four—couldn’t stand up straight. Along the way, we learned a thing or two about what was essential for us to have and what we definitely didn’t like—and I even made a list of the pros and cons of each place we visited.

But what I’ve found after nearly three years of renting is that while features like ample parking for guests and in-unit washing machines are nice to see, there are some parts of renting that a simple house tour can’t tell you. Whether you’re looking at a shiny new apartment or an old family farmhouse, here are 15 questions to ask the landlord before signing a lease:

1. What payment methods will you accept for rent?

This is a question that is often overlooked, but that you’ll want to clear up way in advance. If you’re renting from a small landlord with only one or two properties, you’ll likely need to pay via check—and if you don’t already have a checkbook on hand, you’ll want to order one as soon as possible. Alternatively, if you’re renting from a real estate agent or company, you may be able to pay online via credit or debit card. In some situations, you might even need to pay in cash, but if that’s the case, make sure you always get a receipt!

2. Are we allowed to hang photos and/or outdoor decorations?

Any project with nails involved should be approved in writing before you do it. That means before putting up nails for your Christmas lights or hanging that family photo, you need to make sure it’s OK with your landlord (and if it’s outside, perhaps even the neighborhood’s HOA). You don’t want to end up losing all or some of your security deposit over something that could have been avoided with a simple Command strip, so do your due diligence ahead of time.

3. Can we document any existing damage and do an inventory?

The answer, of course, should be yes. You’ll want to note any current damage so that the landlord can’t withhold your security deposit later for a hole or scratch that was already there.

It’s also a good idea for you to walk through and do a quick inventory of the rental. Make note of any appliances or decorations left there by the landlord that don’t belong to you, like microwaves and washing machines, shelves and closet organizers, or even clothes hangers and shower curtains. Having a physical list of everything that needs to be present when you move out will help you avoid losing part of your security deposit later, as well as mitigate any disputes that may arise over allegedly missing items.

4. Are there any HOA rules that we need to know about?

When my husband and I were looking at houses, we found out that a lot of communities had seemingly arbitrary HOA rules. But whether you agree with the regulations or not, you’ll still have to follow them if you move in. Don’t get your landlord in trouble by failing to keep your trash cans out of sight or remove snow from your front sidewalk!

5. What is included in the rent?

Some utilities might be included in the rent; on the other hand, you may have to—or be able to—pay extra for services like lawn care and trash pick-up. We also found that some rentals required extra deposits and even tacked on additional monthly fees for pets. Each property is different, so be sure to clarify this before your first rent check is due.

6. What utilities do we need to have turned on?

If they aren’t included in the rent, it can cost money to have utilities like cable and internet or gas and electric services turned on. If the landlord keeps these things going from tenant to tenant, however, you may be able to avoid this fee. Either way, it’s nice to know upfront!

7. Can you hear the neighbors through the walls?

Living in an apartment, townhouse, or duplex? Then this is an important question to ask! A lot of places have quasi-soundproof walls, but if they don’t, that could be a deal-breaker for you.

8. What’s the neighborhood like?

Who lives around here? Is it mostly college students? Older couples? Families? You may also want to ask who lives next door, especially if it’s an apartment, townhome, or duplex. Knowing what to expect going in can help ease the transition into your new community.

9. Are there any HOA perks we should know about?

Will you get access to a pool, dog park, or playground? Is there a list of available pet sitters or baby sitters in the neighborhood? You can’t take advantage of opportunities like these if you don’t know about them, so don’t be afraid to ask.

10. How should we let you know if there’s a problem?

You’re likely responsible for incidentals like light bulbs and clogged toilets, but if there’s a leaky faucet, a broken air conditioner, or a burst water heater, that’s stuff that the landlord should handle, and in a timely manner! Find out how the property manager wants to be contacted in case of a maintenance problem or emergency. And if they’re out of town (which always seems to happen at the most inconvenient times), then who should you call?

11. Who usually does the repairs?

Does the property manager hire a maintenance worker/contractor for each individual problem? Do they use a company? Do they do the work themselves? It never hurts to know what to expect.

12. Do you do regular inspections?

In most states, landlords need to give you some notice before they enter your house or apartment, usually at least 24 hours. That said, if they plan on doing an inspection once every few months, it’s good to know ahead of time.

13. What is the plan for when the lease is up?

Will you transition to a month-to-month residency? Will you need to renew your lease? Will you need to leave? Your or your landlord’s situation may change by then, but you’ll want to nail down a rough plan so you both know what’s coming.

14. What is the crime rate for this area? How are the schools?

This is something you can look up yourself, but the landlord or your realtor may know, too.

15. Did you change the locks since the last tenant stayed?

The answer should be yes! You don’t want anyone showing up uninvited.

Whether you’re moving into your first rental or your fifteenth, moving is always an exciting experience—so congratulations! Don’t forget to share any extra tips and tricks you may have for those looking for houses to rent in the comments below.

This article was last updated July 7, 2020.

7 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Wedding Ceremony Venue

Disclaimer: Opinions published on ShellyRawlings.com do not reflect the opinions of my employers or clients and are not intended to be taken as legal advice or other professional counseling (I am not a lawyer—I’m a writer). For more information on this and other terms and conditions, click here.

JUNE 28, 2017 — Wedding bells are ringing! If you’re in the process of planning a wedding, you know that nothing is set in stone until you have a venue—so after your budget, the venue should be the first thing on your to-do list.

Continue reading “7 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Wedding Ceremony Venue”

6 Pages You Must Have on Your Wedding Website

JUNE 19, 2017 — If you’re on this page, it’s either because you really love my blog (aw, shucks!) or you’re engaged (or soon to be)! If the latter is true, congrats! Me too! You might have noticed that once you get engaged, everybody starts asking about wedding plans. An easy way to keep all your friends and family in-the-loop about your pending party is to create a wedding website! And if you don’t know where to start—that’s where I come in.

Continue reading “6 Pages You Must Have on Your Wedding Website”

9 Things to Bring on your Summer Road Trip

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, and this post contains affiliate links. If you click any of these links and make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own and can’t be bought. Thanks so much for supporting me and my blog! (Click here for more info.)

MAY 25, 2017 — Summer is here, and the road is calling.

Sound right up your alley? If you’re embarking on a traditional road trip this summer, or you’re driving to your vacation destination, here are a few things you’ll want to make sure you pack in your “carry on,” instead of stowing them in your suitcase:

Continue reading “9 Things to Bring on your Summer Road Trip”

5 Things I Wasn’t Prepared for When I Started My Freelance Business

This article was published Dec. 19, 2016. Click here to read my more recent posts.

Disclaimer: Opinions published on ShellyRawlings.com do not reflect the opinions of my employers or clients and are not intended to be taken as legal, financial, or business advice or other professional counseling (I am not a lawyer or financial adviser—I’m a writer). For more information on this and other terms and conditions, click here.

OK—it’s official. I suck at Blogmas.

But I’m back today with a great, informative post for any aspiring entrepreneurs like myself.

I’m a freelance writer and editor, and while being self-employed is liberating, it comes with its challenges. Between learning how to find my own clients and navigating my own finances (and taxes), catching the entrepreneurial bug has been an uphill battle the whole way. But I’ve learned a thing or two, and in this post, I’m breaking down five of them.

Here are five things I wasn’t prepared for when I first launched my online business:

1. Your blogging experience will carry over—so marketing won’t be as hard as you think.

I’ve been a blogger for about a year now, and I learned a lot more about online marketing than I thought I did through my blog. While blogging for fun, I learned how to utilize social media—especially Pinterest—to drive traffic toward a site, and when you’re an online business, social media optimization is vital.

I didn’t realize that I knew so much about this until I was so successful right from the start. I knew going in that my business needed to have its own website, and that I would need to SEO and SMO the heck out of it, but I didn’t realize that I knew how to do that so well! I already have over 100 views per day on my separate business site, and it’s barely even been up for a full week.

2. Even online, personal relationships are the best way to get paying customers.

At first, I thought that building an awesome website with a popular blog would be the best way to earn me clients—but I was totally wrong. While that stuff is a great way to bring traffic to my site, I’ve really gotten the most paying clients from forums and Facebook groups where I spoke one-on-one with a potential customer, and they liked me so much, they decided to hire me! This personal connection helped them develop a trust in me that converted them from potential clients to paying clients.

3. Visiting competitors’ sites isn’t treasonous—it’s absolutely necessary.

The only way to learn about the business you’re in is to see what others are doing. How do they run their business? Am I operating up to their standards? Am I charging too much or too little? Am I using the correct industry terms? The answers to these questions are all on my competitors’ websites, so I don’t stop myself from taking a look-see.

Additionally, it’s just as important to form solid relationships with your competitors as it is with your clients. In the editing business, we tend to fill up our schedules quickly, and if a fellow editor fills their schedule but I have an opening, I’d love for them to feel comfortable passing that business to me (and vice versa).

4. You have to be willing to turn people down, even if they’re willing to pay.

When I first started freelancing, I basically never said no—especially if I was being paid. And I didn’t argue. You want me to write 5,000 words? Got it. Oh, you need 6,000 now? That’s fine, I’ll do it.

I built a lot of great relationships this way, but I got taken advantage of a lot. I soon decided I wasn’t going to do that anymore.

As an editor, I offer a small free trial of my services to help my authors feel more comfortable choosing me as an editor, and also so I can give them an accurate price for how much work I’ll have to do on the full manuscript. But I soon realized that if I’m going to offer a free service, I need to be very specific on what I will do and what I won’t do for free. I can’t offer more words than what I say I’ll do for free, no exceptions. And I can’t do a complete rewrite of a section for free: it’s a trial solely for the editing service. After all, I started working for myself so I could do what I love and get paid for it, not so I could do what I don’t want to do for free!

5. Work-life balance is going to be even harder when I’m a business owner.

A few months back, I did a blog post all about how to balance your life and bounce back when you’re experiencing burnout. I was totally overworked and my loved ones were suffering because of it, so I promised my family and friends that I would never let my job take away from my time with them. But that became super difficult when I opened my own business.

I always wanted to get back to clients and potential clients immediately, but doing that meant working after-hours when I should have been spending time with the people I love. I have to limit myself and consciously decide to protect the sacred balance between my work and personal life—for my and my family’s sake!

Once I figured out all these things, my business went along a lot smoother…but I had to learn the hard way! Did you?

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How to Bounce Back When You’re on the Verge of Burnout—Balancing School, Work + Relationships

This article was published Oct. 2, 2016.

If you’re feeling mentally (and physically) exhausted, your stress and anxiety levels are through the roof, and you feel like you have nowhere to turn, you’re probably on the verge of burnout—and before you completely lose your passion, it’s time to take a step back and figure out what you can do to balance everything you have going on.

Continue reading “How to Bounce Back When You’re on the Verge of Burnout—Balancing School, Work + Relationships”