Sur­viv­ing in the news­pa­per busi­ness

The Compass - - OPINION -

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.