Welcome to Jblog School

First of all, congratulations to our friend Jen at A Diatribe from a Law Student for winning our Latest Leaders Identity Contest in the previous post. Her prize was being the first paragraph of this post and thus billions of people knowing to click on her blog. Kudos also to King Yankees for giving it a pretty good run. We’ll have another Latest Leaders before month’s end.

jBlog_logo1 (2).gifI am going to do something today that I’ve always wanted to do since blogging became a growing movement. I am going to offer journalism help for bloggers.

You may not care, and that’s cool, so read or disregard. But I am frequently asked about credentialing, and I can tell you that no one without a journalism background is going to be credentialed for a Major League clubhouse anytime in the near future, save for an occasional experiment. Do you know libel law? Have you studied up on journalism ethics? Do you know the difference between “off the record” and quoting an anonymous source? Fairness? Reporting 101? Do you have a nose for news? We are generally blogging in this community about content surfaced from those at the source, usually reporters with J-school backgrounds, and reacting.

I am all for the movement of Consumer Creates Content, which I believe is surpassing Company Creates Content across the board in society now and forever blurring the lines of old communication. In some ways, not having a J-school background is a good thing for bloggers. In some ways, that is a bad thing. I went to Indiana University back when it was considered the No. 1 J-school in America and because I have been at this media career since starting at The Miami Herald in 1982 (I’m old!), I can teach you a few things. In other ways I continue to learn from you. The diversity of perspective in the MLBlogs community is powerful. So here goes, and I will invite guest lecturers and gradually add to this and occasionally post about various subjects that offer help to bloggers — my Jblog School. You can enroll here for free.

Buy an AP Stylebook.

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How are the most important words to you. If you address all of them within your post, then I am more likely to keep reading you. If you are writing a news story, then it is not optional to exclude one.

Surprise your readers. Write with different formats and styles. Lists, Shakespearean play structure, Jays from A to Z, photo captioning, inverted pyramid (normal news style), essay, etc. I keep going back to writers who surprise me. Frank Deford was always one of my favorites for this reason. I just tried to do that in writing: a bowtie story on the MLB.com homepage every day for five consecutive weeks from the homestretch of the regular season through the Phillies’ parade; 22 holiday shopping articles for the MLB.com and club homepages from the World Series to the day after Christmas; and our countdown series of articles leading up to and through our launch of the MLB Network. When you write all the time, you have to take chances and try new formats, and that starts with being well-read. Sometimes you will stink and sometimes you will shine. It also keeps you fresh as the author.

Pujols.jpgNever write the word “awesome” unless you mean it. (Pictured, for example.) Edwin Pope (“The Pontiff”) was someone I looked up to while working at The Herald, where he was an institution as columnist and former sports editor. A month into my postgrad internship, I asked The Pontiff for advice on my career. That is the first thing he said. He told me how long he had gone between usages of the word “awesome.” I dare you to try it. It will have more impact.

“Whether or not” should be simply “Whether” — self-editing is important. “Think about whether those extra words are necessary.” As opposed to: “Think about whether or not those extra words are necessary.” I see blog postings all the time that have content that would be heavily edited and perhaps half as long after editors with journalism backgrounds got hold of them.

Time-date-place. In that order. “They play at 8 ET tonight at Safeco.” Not “They play at 8 p.m. ET tonight at Safeco.” Often you will see both “p.m.” and “tonight” in advertising text simply because they want to pound the point home into submission. In journalism, that is redundant. It is conventional to follow the exact order of TDP, not “tonight at 8 ET.” The accepted usage of “ET” as the default time zone in American journalism is one of the greatest true examples of East Coast bias that exists, but it is accepted nonetheless and I also have to use it. Again, it’s AP Style. Few media outlets fight AP Style. TDP, TDP.

Know your audience. Who are you writing for with each post? I write every MLB.com article for one baseball fan, easily envisioned from interviewing one after another at Wrigley or Fenway or Dodger Stadium or Coors Field. As a blogger, there is one big difference. I always was taught and always went out of my way NOT to write for other writers. I always believed you are an idiot if you write for another writer. In blogging, that is mostly your audience, I would guess. In this case, certainly I am writing for other writers. The typical blogger wants other bloggers to comment on her post.

Try using “her” instead of “him” — just so you don’t sound so 1800s. Respect and fight for diversity. Whatever your gender, use the opposite in such generic third-person references. The former Dean of the Indiana School of Journalism, the late Richard Gray, was the first person I ever saw do that. At the time, roughly 1980 in the Heartland, it seemed so strange and forced. I get a sense that it is about 50/50 female/male here at the MLBlogosphere.

T.A.N. A popular writing coach once told me to avoid the dreaded “T.A.N.” at all costs. It stands for The-Adjective-Name. “The 34-year-old Jeter…” should be simply “Jeter, 34,…” College sports broadcasters are the worst at this. “The 280-pound Smith…” Actually this is sort of a dumb topic for Jblog School, but because he hammered it home so often, I feel compelled to mention it here.

Your lede (first graf) is the window to your story. But if you sit there forever and try to think of the perfect lede, you will never finish on your own deadline. Feel free to work on the body first and then come back to the lede. Make it sing. Write the best lede ever.

Have a deadline.

Quote literature. Teach people something. Inspire them.

crash2.jpgSometimes a picture really does say a thousand words. Post a blog entry that is nothing more than a photograph. And remember to always keep a digital camera around, even if it’s just your mobile phone. I took these pics of two seats that washed up next to me shortly after the Miracle on the Hudson plane crash.

Numbers are spelled out through nine and then digits starting with 10. The exception is your typical book, where it is style to spell out all numbers for some reason I do not yet understand.

Read up on the Alien and Sedition Acts and understand journalism’s importance, at least in America if not everywhere. The same checks and balances required for government exist for your favorite sports team. One of our long-term MLBloggers here told me yesterday she was stunned that no one had asked a single probing question after her college’s powerhouse team was stunned by another team this past week. Journalists not only have to be willing to be the one person in a filled room who raises a hand and asks an offensive/uncomfortable question, but actually kind of lives for it.

The average blogger does not need to feel this way, and does not need to aspire to be a journalist at all. But there are many lessons from a journalism education and career that I am certain will be of use to other bloggers, and these are just a handful. The bell has just rung, and not rang. I think. Journalists tend to debate things like this, which is the homework assignment today. Talk about writing with others, including in comments here. Class is dismissed. All MLBloggers are guaranteed A’s anyway.

Professor Mark

P.S. – Have you joined us yet on our Official MLBlogs Twitter? We now have more than 40 followers, so we’re growing fast. It is Major League Baseball’s first-ever official presence on Twitter (and the only one in existence as of now). It is your way to promote your MLBlog, by posting tweets in 140 characters or less and including your full URL. Be an MLBloggs Twitterer as well, all part of the biggest baseball blogging community. If you already are on Twitter, then just follow @mlblogs

P.S.S. – Thanks to my MLB.com colleague Cate in Design for spontaneously (our world) whipping up a suite of Jblog School graphics, starting with the chalkboard above!

46 Comments

What a day… and RSBS’ very own Allen Krause was there — LIVE — to watch it unfold. Just put a couple pics up… more to come once he can put together his report.
–Jeff
http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

D.C. is crazy right now. I attended the We Are One Concert on Saturday (have a blog up on it), and am going the inauguration today. Hoping I don’t freeze to death. I should be taking a boatload of pictures, and have them up one the blog pretty soon, hopefully. OK, probably should go to bed right now; have to stand up for five hours straight tomorrow. :-/

Aaron
http://districtboy.mlblogs.com/

What happened to the “Miracle on the Hudson” post?
–Jeff
http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

Thanks, Steve, and good to reinforce those points you made. It will be interesting to see if someone can create a niche with a copy-editing service for those who do not have copy editors. In the meantime, most everyone here is one’s own editor, so self-editing is important as Steve noted.

Mark, this is my favorite post from you. As a grad with a degree in journalism–class of 1989, so it’s been a while–I cringe at professional blogs in online newspapers that often feature misspellings and inaccurate information. The Prince of NY would agree. He’s a master of spotting incorrect stats and other items that are just plain wrong. The rule I would stress to my fellow bloggers is this: read back your blog entry to yourself before posting it. This will cut down on typos, misspellings and run-on sentences.

Looking forward to more pointers, Mark!

Steve T.
http://soxblog.mlblogs.com

Sorry to post back-to-back, but I just got news that we almost lost baseball icon Don Zimmer over the holidays due to a small stroke. He is doing well and is recovering as we speak in his condo in Seminole, Florida.

I did a tribute blog to the man affectionately known as “Popeye” tonight. I still can not believe the guy won 906 games as a manager. Amazing life of a really inspirational sports figure.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

I second that idea Mark. Jane would be a perfect person to pick because we all read her and know her style, but would love to learn more about her and her take on the craft of writing.

I would play to take this course, but by the grace of MLB and you, we get the knowledge for the best price in the world, and you only ask that we write with the knowledge you give us in these classes.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlbogs.com

I really appreciate that you wrote this. I worked on my high school newspaper and was taught a lot of these same lessons. They were lessons that I disregarded up until this point where, when you have something to say, make sure you actually say it. I have this problem of writing like I talk and often have some serious ADD moments where it’s like, “ooh something shiny.” While everyone has their own style, hopefully this will improve my writing and interest people in reading what I have to say. Thanks so much!
Emily
http://deconstructingthoughts.mlblogs.com/

Jane: We are really glad and privileged that you are blogging here. Would love for you to be one of those guest lecturers one of these days, if I can make that public appeal of a mega-author who is about to go off the hook with a new Yankees book!

Raynegade: Yup. Reporter blogs are practically standard. FYI our 30 MLB.com reporters were bloggers starting a long time ago — when you are posting content day and night in a digital format and interacting with users, that’s blogging. But I think you will see more and more of what you think of as “blog” presence from them as well, stay tuned.

TYBW and all others with similar comments: I really appreciate the feedback and am eager for the next class! I also am looking forward to bringing in guest lecturers — some names you will really be interested in, I think.

Arielle (catchingredsox): Reading your comment just made me laugh because I was thinking of how, in college, I would use the word “said” in attribution only once and then always use a synonym thereafter. “…he averred” was a typical example. That was some really bad writing! :)

Thanks for all the great information. I learned more reading your blog than I did in a semester of news writing. :)

http://TYBW.mlblogs.com

I know this might be a tongue in cheek comment, but don’t all major newspapers MLB reporters basically run a blog on their sites now in addition to their daily stories or breaking news about their teams.

That says a lot about what we do daily. It is becoming a piece of the fabric of Internet life. And a few of us someday could make a nice living, like Perez Hilton reporting on things from a opinion and viewpoint based blog or site. We can all dream.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Good, I like that. Lol, when “today’s youngsters” are handing out the credentials years from now I’ll like it even more!
http://thisfanslife.mlblogs.com

Bern: Thanks. I don’t really see things that way anymore — blogs vs. traditional media. I think it’s all content and today’s youngsters are growing up just reading/viewing whatever they like. I would forget all about conventional wisdoms and how it felt when blogging was born. It’s a new day. I don’t even think the word “blog” will survive.

Very helpful post. Very insightful, especialy the part about only people with journalism backgrounds being allowed into most Major League clubhouses. I have mixed feelings about this, though:

Following your tips will get a blogger on the road to credentialhood (if that is what she desires), but once she gets there can she still be called a blogger? My understanding of a blog is that it is the opposite of a newspaper or magazine. It’s the one place where what you learned (or didn’t learn) in J School doesn’t matter.

I’d love to see more bloggers allowed into Major League clubhouses but I’d hate to see the true essence of blogging forgotten because of it.
http://thisfanslife.mlblogs.com

That’s a great post. I hope my blog is entertaining and makes a person want to know what I will say next. I definitely haven’t followed the “rules” completely, I tend to write/type how I talk but I think I break it up. But I will definitely refer to this in the future, but I will still remain me. I think a Girly Baseball Chick blog is pretty identifiable. And it is pretty much AWESOME that my name is listed on the main blog page under this articles title. I must say I felt pretty special.

http://girlybaseballchick.mlblogs.com

Thanks for the educational lesson, Mark. I don’t have a journalism background aside from a Journalism 101 class I took last semester as an elective, and I guess is a big reason I didn’t even get a call about a Phillies columnist for MLB.com I applied for in September. Life goes on.
I always looked at writing as more of an art than a format. I write what I feel and the rules generally mean little to me. I do, however, find your advice very useful to help with clarity and getting the point across. I look forward to hearing more of your lessons.

http://thegoodofthegame.mlblogs.com

I love this. Even though I am in J-School now, I can always use tips to improve my writing and style. Yes, MLBlogs is largely diatribe in format, but for those of us wanting to pursue a career in writing or renew old abilities, what better place is there to practice than a community like MLBlogs?
The two things I have learned from real school (COM is the bomb, go Terriers!) that I most value are:
Read, read, read, read, read!
I came into school reading only the Boston Globe everyday. Now, I constantly check nytimes.com, boston.com, jpost.com and theonion.com (great source to renew creativity) and find myself criticizing ways certain writers compose an article or making a mental post-it note on a certain style or phrase I liked. Not only does reading the news daily allow a person to hold his own in conversation, but it helps him look at his own writing critically. Over the course of a semester, my self-editing skills have drastically improved because of what I notice in newspapers.
Constant reading, however, can lead to another problem that I myself am plagued by. It’s a problem for me that is horrible, annoying, persistently frustrating, and makes me want to throw papers out my window (stupid screens).
Cliches.
I learned when editing my own work to highlight any word used more than once, including words such as “said”, “because”, “thus” etc. Then, I open up my favorite book, Merriam-Webster’s Thesaurus, and try to find a better word for the given phrase/sentence. Some times the word used is the only one that feels appropriate, yet many times there’s another word from the thesaurus that fits and makes you feel like a genius for using it. If I didn’t already have the AP style book and my thesaurus, I would go out and buy both of them immediately.
I can’t wait for more of these. Mark, you are a much more interesting professor than the ones I have at school.
-A
http://catchingredsox.mlblogs.com

Hey Mark,
Thanks for the info! This is really great :O) I hope (or, I am “being hopeful”?? ha!) to be writing for a long time; I plan to pick your brain some more in the future. Thanks again,

Jenn
http://PhilliesPhollowers.mlblogs.com/
http://www.PhightinPhils.com/

Great post, Mark. What a public service for all of us. Even this professional writer finds it all too easy to lapse into bad habits when I’m blogging, because there’s no editor looking over my shoulder. Well, there’s you, Mark. I’ll be VERY careful with my posts from now on, just in case you happen to stop by.

http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

Any good writer will point out their own mistake too. It’s red not [sp][read]. And then the comment would read, “Don’t rely only on spellchecker. It’s not perfect but you should be.”
-tom

I love this idea. I wish it was around when I first started blogging.

Bigpapi72, http://bostonsports.mlblogs.com/

Mark, well I could reply on your post for days but this is a conversation I have with myself often. blogging and journalism. Obviously I have been a newshound since I can remember and it’s one of the reasons I have set out to go across the country to manufacture writing. It’s ironic and poetic Elizabeth’s name is directly above me here as the first thing I remember saying to her about journalism is AP style. Live or die by it. Second don’t get into the news business as a sports reporter first. You’ll learn too many bad habits and too much opinion is interjected into sports writing. I have every news article from every paper I ever wrote in a box and the editing from many great editors I knew. Some have read ink all over them reading “Says who,” “Is that opinion or fact,” and the list goes on. It’s been tough for me getting back into writing because I put it aside for too many years. It is coming back slowly and the love is returning with it. Here is the internet age and blogging and the rules are being made up as the years go by. My first inclination is straight news but is that really a blog I ask? Then I think feature and my mind goes to delayed leads. Creations like Timeout at the plate are just a mixing of my journalism heritage and the new format of blogging. If I was in a newsroom again I would remember the format and be disciplined to work within it, but in the blogosphere where do the two worlds meet and work together? It’s going to be an interesting journey but don’t be surprised before you retire to see me writing somewhere in Major League baseball and you can say you read my work when I was Rockymountainway. Anytime you want or get an urge to edit, truthfully I miss red ink or editing symbols on my copy, feel free to send me what you got and sign me up for that refresher course I no doubt need!
tom
http://rockymountainway.mlblogs.com

Mark,
Thank you for this! This is exactly what I need right now. And I can’t believe you started out with the Miami Herald! I’m actually seeking an internship in the near future there (or anywhere I can find one). I’m definitely going to keep this in my mind for my future posts, and articles for the other site I work for, MLB Center. Wherever I go to school, I’ll be majoring in journalism–sports journalism that is!
-Elizabeth
http://redsoxgirl46.mlblogs.com

Mark,
Thank you for this! This is exactly what I need right now. And I can’t believe you started out with the Miami Herald! I’m actually seeking an internship in the near future there (or anywhere I can find one). I’m definitely going to keep this in my mind for my future posts, and articles for the other site I work for, MLB Center. Wherever I go to school, I’ll be majoring in journalism–sports journalism that is!
-Elizabeth
http://redsoxgirl46.mlblogs.com

Thank you very much for this article. I’m going to college and majoring in journalism next fall. I will definitely refer back to this article. I was actually considering picking up that AP Style book. Thanks for the tips, they are very much appreciated.
http://hardballblog.mlblogs.com/

I am an aspiring journalist, so I’m glad to be getting any tips I can! Thanks for doing this. I look forward to more!
http://kaybee.mlblogs.com

Great comments, everyone. Please always feel free to share your own thoughts on the whole blogness of our lives. Just posted videos I took of two seats that washed up to me at Charles Street on the Hudson…what a day here.

I agree with Russell in that I am surprised that he is surprised that he agrees with me :-)
–Jeff
http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

As Elvis Costello said; “Yesterday’s news is tomorrows fish and chip paper” and blogs are even more ephemeral than that, but the recent American election showed that they can be powerful things given the right conditions.
To my surprise I agree with Jeff that they are essentially diatribe. I don’t expect them to have the veracity or research of my daily newspaper but I expect them to convey the personality of the writer and (something that is often forgotten) be easy on the eye.

http://arizonaviaslough.blogspot.com/

Hi, Mark …

I would start by saying, “your above post is awesome”, but awesome is a word that I probably use way too many times .. I think it’s more out of habit, but it is a word that I like the sound of, and it usually fits the description of what I want to say at the time … Hopefully, [now that's a word that I also use too much], I will challenge myself to use the word awesome less often, and use a variety of other words that are just as effective in expressing whatever it is that I am describing … Thanks, for the J-class, Mark … The class is very informative, and I look forward to future classes in your “JBLOG SCHOOL” … This is a great service for all of us here in this [I will not use awesome] “outstanding” mlblogging community !!! … First lesson learned, Mark !!! Jimmy [27NYY], “BY&L” … http://baseballtheyankeesandlife.mlblogs.com/

Rock of Rant Pileage??..lol…D

Mark – thanks for the tips! For an Accounting/Poli Sci Major who went to college more years ago then she cares to remember – any advice is helpful. I will agree with my friend “D” of the Rockpile Rant. Developing ones own individual style is important. It sets you apart and make people want to come back for more! Thanks again for being our fearless leader and more importantly – for putting up with us!

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

I have the CP (Canadian Press) Stylebook and there in now even a section on blogging, and desireable ways to format your blog. I thought why would they even have this section? Blogging is 100 percent free of all those constraints, why are stylebooks even trying to ruin that? It made me laugh.

I actually wrote something on my blog the other day that was a commonly told story about Ricky Henderson and John Olerud, which they both deny. Something I would have never considered writing, if it were not a blog. Those are great lessons, they probably could also apply to communication majors like me. I might actually do something in the future on my blog that seems more like journalism. Something different than just fun, ‘off the top of my head cathartic writing.’ One day, maybe? If ever I had any news to report about anything, that hasn’t already been reported.

I guess it must be hard for people who actually are journalists to blog, or even read blogs some. I’d think that writing the same way all the time could get to someone, and structure their personal/natural writing styles like you said. This site has proven me wrong, there are many great team writers here that have very entertaining blogs. The two ‘worlds of writing’ (blogging, journalism) sort of meet right here in a sense, with all the professional writers that blog here. It is part of what make MLBlogs so interesting.
http://homerfoodandhistory.mlblogs.com/

Don at Rock of Rant Pileage: No two blogs should be alike, no two voices alike. Keep up the great work. One of the greatest works in baseball literature intentionally included perhaps 5,000 typos or more: “You Know Me Al” from Ring Lardner. I just re-read that again recently and love it.

jobaisnow: Great self-editing! :)

Raynegade: Thanks — honesty is a good thing to bring up, too. I have worked with a plagiarist or two.

Mark those are awesome points about the MLB credentials. I used to work as a correspondent for a local newspaper here, and my local Rays rep. is actually kind of recommending me for 2009 limited access.

But what you are writing about is so true. The libel and the “off the record” quotes can make or break you as a writer because if you give the players and team a fair shake, they will trust you and then you have a bond of loyalty and honesty ethics within the organization. That is key to get the odd scoops or even interviews that most can not even attempt.

The thing I learned first in journalism class from a professor was to just be an honest writer and write what you would not be ashamed to see your name attached to in print. Sounds simple, but the lines can blur fast if you have a scoop and print something without a confirmation or source.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Oh I forgot the second t in my url

http://whereplayersbecomelegends.mlblogs.com

Thanks for the tips Mark, very good stuff. I must say though, I think the people who read the Rockpile Rant read it because I write like I think. I don’t hold back, and I’ve been having an “awesome” time with it. I write with a wee bit of an attitude, and if someone decides not to read my blog because I misspell a word or didn’t use the proper past or present tense, so be it. I will be following this class though because it is a good thing. Thanks for tutoring us Mark…D
http://baseballsnatcher.mlblogs.com/

Jen, looking forward to the post — and thanks to you, Jeff and others who have joined our Official MLBlogs Twitter!

Oh, by the way: My cousin Bruce Newman, who was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated (now a movie critic), once told me when I was in high school: “I’d consider it a personal favor if you would not use ‘hopefully’ in a sentence.” Ha! I just used it in a comment above. So there you go, another lesson. Apparently it is not a suitable replacement for “being hopeful.”

Jeff: Cool, that’s what I was hoping to accomplish. Blogging is such a versatile form of communication as you said; so hopefully along the way someone will get something out of these Jblog School posts, in her/his own way. Dude, you are the one that should be teaching all of us. :)

Hope everyone is enjoying Twins pitcher Glen Perkins’ blogging from the road at http://twins.mlblogs.com — he will have a player blog all his own after the Caravan. Meanwhile, I am following this Andruw Jones situation as closely as I can. I remember how a very young Andruw Jones once crashed two homers in a World Series game I covered at Yankee Stadium. I just wonder…

Greatest prize ever. Thank you, Mark! This blog is really helpful, considering I have no journalism background whatsoever. A lot of your pointers are similar to what I’m learning in my legal writing class, so this is bookmarked because it’s in plain English not lawyer English. :) And now I have a great idea for a blog tonight. You rule, Mark!
Jen
http://ajroxmywhitesox.mlblogs.com

Thanks for the lesson, Mark. I think the beauty of blogging is that it’s not journalism at all. I mean, we’re not breaking stories here… we’re more like analysts and/or diatribe artists… we can entertain without the pressure of “reporting”. At the same time, there are many similarities and the writing tips never hurt. There are many blogs that I never read again because of poor grammar, misuse of words, verbs not matching, etc… but that’s just me.
–Jeff
http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

Hey Thanks for posting this article. I found it really helpful since I am pretty new here. I have been doing my best job to edit my entries and make sure I have credited the source I got my information if I got it from someone else. Thanks again.

Where Players Become Legends
htp://whereplayersbecomelegends.mlblogs.com

Keep up the good blogging! You reminded me that another important trait of a good blogger is: BE PROVOCATIVE. You are that, as you had provoked me to comment on one of your posts. Making people think and making them want to comment is a hallmark of a good blogger. In traditional journalism, mainly newspapers, it was hoping that you would entice readers to want to write letters to the editor. I love 2009.

Thanks! I found this article helpful, I know personally I try to do a better job of being more relevant and to the point. My main problems come from the fact that most of the time I’m writing from work in random spurts and fail to proof read and truly edit. I come up with a topic, I write about the topic, and then determine what day it should be released. I’ve been recently working hard at rotating topics (about the MLB, MLB blogging, the reds, technology in baseball and repeat)

COB
http://cobf.mlblogs.com

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