Though I’ve always considered myself a solid writer and copy editor, I’ve grown a lot these two weeks through reviewing the fundamentals of news writing, using AP style and most importantly for me learning to write under a strict deadline. These are things I ask my students to do regularly and I have a newfound respect for exactly what that means.
In the writing time crunch after the press conference with Len Downie Jr., I found myself reverting to a stilted essay-style format. I should know better – I teach my students about tight focused leads, short sentences and succinct paragraphs. Yet when facing a deadline, I drew upon my English language training instead of my journalism training.
Last week I initially felt as though I’d stepped into the movie “The Doctor” with William Hurt. For those who haven’t seen the movie, he’s a cocky, inconsiderate doctor who becomes a patient and must learn what it’s like to walk in his patients’ shoes.
Just like Hurt, I’m learning what it’s like to be a “real world” journalist all over again and though at times it’s uncomfortable and stressful, I’m excited by the challenge.
The tips that Steve Elliott shared in his presentation on writing aren’t new to me, but they served as important reminders. My initial graded draft of the press conference revealed to me just how out of practice I am.
It’s one thing to copy edit another’s writing – that has become almost second nature to me in my journalism classes. It’s a completely different experience to go out and report the news in real time and condense that into a cohesive, reader-friendly story under the pressure of a deadline.
As my staff and I switch from a weekly-updated online newspaper site to a more 24-7 news coverage format, reporting well under pressure with more regular deadlines will be our biggest challenge.
Milton Coleman, senior editor of The Washington Post, tells his reporters that there’s “no yesterday in the lead.” He said, “We have to make news important to people – it has to be something that they feel they are compelled to read.”
The challenge for my staff is accomplishing that and doing it well in a world dominated by social media and the 24-hour news cycle. We’ll start with the fundamentals and build upon them, learning with each story we cover and write, just as I’ve learned and grown here at the Reynolds High School Journalism Institute.
I will take away with me the lessons about writing I’ve learned and share them with my students. I look forward to showing them the multiple drafts of my institute articles and explaining to them the process I went through to create my final stories.
I want to give a special thanks to Steve Elliott for inspiring and mentoring each of us. The tireless dedication and hours you’ve put into coordinating, teaching, reading and offering timely feedback is greatly appreciated. You’ve modeled great journalism and exceptional teaching. Thank you!
Woodcreek High School