Surviving in the newspaper business
I survived my first three weeks at The Compass.
July 5 was my first day of eight weeks of work as a summer reporter here in Carbonear.
Because the newspaper is presently in a state of flux in many ways, it’s been an interesting time to begin a new job.
Already my learning curve has been steep.
Before coming on staff, I thought I knew quite a bit about the newspaper business. After all, my most recent job, which I lost almost two years ago due to downsizing, was as a magazine editor. However, it was a bi-monthly magazine, whereas The Compass is a weekly newspaper.
There’s a big difference between working almost at leisure on a magazine that only comes out six times a year and a newspaper that appears every seven days. Indeed, there are few comparisons.
The biggest thing I’ve noticed so far is the speed with which editors produce articles. Within 10 minutes, an editor can crank out an editorial more quickly than a fast food restaurant cranks out hamburgers. It might take me an hour to do the same thing.
My forte has always been historical articles, which require intensive research and deliberate writing, to make sure each fact and figure has been verified.
Newspaper editors are no less rigorous, but they are on a tight and firm deadline. Twenty pages of copy must be ready to go at the end of each week. Time and tide and newspapers wait for no man.
I began my second week with some trepidation. I knew the pace would increase. More articles would be required of me. Greater writing speed would be expected.
Only time will tell whether or not I succeeded.
On Monday morning of my second week, the senior editor called to me from his office.
“ Come on, Burton. We’re going on a trip.”
Our destination was the TC Square for a story.
En route, we came to a garden of grazing sheep.
“Did you notice something about those two sheep?” he asked. Can’t say I did. He jumped out with his camera and shot two of the animals pushing their heads through the wire fence. A great standalone for the paper. First lesson, week 2: Be observant. English is my first and only language. To my detriment, I only dabbled in French in school. At university, I experimented with German. At seminary, I dipped into Greek. In Week 2 here at The Compass, I began learning a new language ... Newspaperese.
The editors are fluent in this language. Me, not so much.
As a dutiful summer reporter, I listened closely, trying to infer the meaning of the new words and phrases I heard tossed around.
“ Kicker.” Sounds painful. I’d call it an article title.
Some articles call for a “deck.” A great place for a barbecue. No? Oh, a subtitle.
The plot thickens, because there’s also such a thing as a “subhead.”
“Cutline.” I’d call it a caption identifying a photo.
I was instructed to not allow “dead space” in my pics.
There’s a “priority list” which, according to one editor, “ is the newspaperman’s bible.” Well, that’s different. I’ve typically used the Bible in other contexts. A priority list is a master list of what things go where.
Evidently I buried something “right to the end of the story.”
If you continue an article on another page, you “ turn inside.” I usually do that at night when I get tired of sleeping on one side.
I can “ kill a page” by making sure it’s completely filled out.
“ Shorts” and “ briefs.” Two comments here. First, I wear shorts, but rarely briefs. Second, Bill Bowman, who’s been with The Compass for 38 years, told me to write items that are “short enough to be interesting but long enough to cover the subject.”
Finally, some articles are placed “down the rail.” I did that when I was a kid, walking the old railway ties. Here at The Compass, it refers to an article that runs along an outside column of a page.
Just when I thought I was beginning to master Newspaperese, someone gave me a book with more than 400 examples of terminology and press jargon. I won’t be able to master all that in eight weeks.
With his camera around his neck and his pen and paper at the ready, Burton K. Janes is ready for action as the summer reporter at The Compass newspaper.