Writers and editors can have love-hate relationships with each other. This is most true in the beginning stages of a writer’s career. The relationship happens whether the manuscript is literary or media related. I have not written a book yet, so the only writing and editing work I know relates to media work. To commemorate “Be Kind To Writers And Editors Month”, I’ll share a bare-bones outline of my own training in this field.
My first experiences as an “official” writer and editor happened at Irving Junior High in Lincoln, Nebraska. We had a monthly newspaper that followed legitimate journalistic structure. It wasn’t just an assembly of news quips run off on a mimeograph machine (Do you remember those?) It was an eight page publication with sections for school news, club news, and sports news. There was at least one photograph per page. Our periodical was printed on the mighty presses of “The Lincoln Journal-Star”.
The journalism instructor/newspaper advisor was an amazing woman. I still visualize her at school events, lugging around her bulky press camera and her notepad. She was a bona-fide journalist who moonlighted as a stringer for the Lincoln newspaper. She was a true mentor in every respect. She didn’t just teach journalism; she guided career paths. She was the first teacher whose corrections and grades didn’t annoy me.
First year journalism taught us the basics of objective reporting and how to put that into concise, interesting story form. Second year journalism continued honing the writing aspect and introduced us to the world of editing. The second year journalism pupils did much of the editing of first year journalism reporters. Of course, final editing was overseen by the teacher just before the copy was sent on to the newspaper printing plant.
It was during those two junior high school years that I grasped the full importance of accurate writing and the honing process of editing. The lessons have never been forgotten.
I would have probably become a newspaper man if our family would have remained living in Lincoln, because high school level journalism was a major step above junior high level, and because Lincoln’s high schools’ newspapers published weekly, instead of monthly.
The family moved to a much smaller town that had a nice high school. However the school system did not support a journalism department. The only writing and editing by students was done by yearbook staffers. Of course, I did some work as a staffer, but it was a far cry from even the junior high journalism of the larger city.
College level journalism is more nuanced and specialized. At Wayne (Nebraska) State College, I majored in Communications Arts and specialized in broadcast media. We were offered hands-on experience in radio and television. It was my introduction to broadcast documentary and news writing for both media. The writing and editing had to link with tighter deadlines and tape editing and storage. (Yes, I still know how to physically splice open-reel video and audio tape.)
After college, nearly all of my professional life took place in commercial radio. I’ve touched on some of that in older bluejayblog posts. The lessons learned about writing and editing concise, objective news copy paid off in that venue. Broadcast deadlines are not daily, weekly, nor monthly. Broadcast deadlines are immediate, so writing and editing are done on the fly. Editing is sometimes done seconds before airtime and oftentimes further editing and updating takes place during commercial breaks. The process becomes second nature just as driving a stick-shift transmission is to many car drivers.
Now, during the post-broadcast years, writing this blog is an exercise in keeping my feet in journalism, albeit in a feature stories sort of way. It’s fun to putter around by writing and editing something every morning.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes historical fiction writer E.L. Doctorow. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”