As a section editor who has not had much experience designing pages, beyond the limited scope of last-minute Monday night corrections at 2 a.m., I was excited to attend Michael Koretzky’s session entitled Chicken Salad, where he took the front pages of colleges newspapers and told the audience how he would make them better. Although I have never been blessed with a creative eye, I felt that he had many valid points that extended past design and into my own experiences as a writer.
Some of the key points about writing I took away included:
- Use the headline/deck to actually tell what happened – don’t use boring statements; never forget the verb
- Honestly and openly critique the paper. Don’t passively allow staff to not comment on the previous paper during budget meetings.
- Get into the minds of the reader of you product. As college students writing for a college campus, we are our own audience and we know what we do and don’t like to read.
- Write how people actually speak – in plain English
- Make decisions about what to put in the paper; be selective
As a news reporter, I often resist the urge to use plain, basic English to reach the reader. When reporting on an increase in tuition or a recent town meeting, it can be challenging to find an entertaining, human angle through which to draw in the audience. But, sometimes it is necessary if you want someone to actually here what you have to say. News can be dry and straight-forward, but that doesn’t mean it has to come off that way. It’s my job to make the reader care about what I have to say, even if it’s as boring as budget numbers.
This is something I plan to also share with both the senior reporters I work with on a weekly basis and the general reporters that contribute to the news section. When a general reporter picks up a story late in the week, it’s not guaranteed to be the most interesting, thought-provoking topic (since those have long-since been picked up). But it’s my job as their editor to only help then find that interesting angle, but guide them in construction their story.
Furthermore, I firmly believe that constructive criticism is the best way to help a reporter grow and, as Koretzky said, it’s most important to be honest. I can remember when I first began writing in the fall of my freshman year and how much the little comments and corrections Laura and Margeaux (then news editors) sent back to me each week helped me to consistently improve. While I strive to always give the reporters the chance to edit and correct their owns stories (with guidance from me after I originally edit it), it can tough to manage this system under a tough deadline. If I get a story Sunday night, it’s so difficult to resist the urge to just hack away at the story and make it fit what I saw for the story, rather than what’s actually on the page. But, that’s not what the learning process is about. I can only imagine how I would have felt last year if I saw a published product with my byline that I didn’t recognize. So, all of that being said, I have made a newfound commitment to myself as an editor: certainly be proactive in steering your reporters in the right direction, but don’t forget to let them grow on their own. That’s the only way they’re going to learn. And isn’t that what we’re all about?