June 13, 2014
Over the years, I have written a number of columns. None of them have lasted very long. Writing a column or editorial, I think, can be one of the most challenging writing forms. Maybe it has something to do with reporters being trained to be objective or, at least, objective as possible and then we turn around and write in the subjective voice for a column or editorial.
When I was the short lived editor of Borderland Reporter (before the publisher took off with the huge printer in the back of his pickup truck one night leaving his bills and staff behind in a cloud of exhaust fumes), I faced the challenge of finding stories to write in a southern Saskatchewan area even less populated than the Gravelbourg area that I had just left. In the following editorial, I appealed to the people regarding story ideas. I cannot remember if any were forthcoming because the advertising manager and I soon had our attentions diverted to scrambling to collect money for advertisements the newspapers had already run. With our boss gone awol, we needed the money to give each of us a final pay cheque.
In this editorial, I provide an inside look into what it is like to be a reporter with its long hours, the stress involved in wanting to cover everything or finding there is sometimes almost nothing to cover:
March 9, 1983
by Tanya Lester
Last week the end of my column contained what we in the newspaper business call a typographical error. Its a nice phrase which simply means there was a spelling mistake.
Rather than “requesting community contracts” in this column I will be requesting “community contacts” or asking you to give me a call when something comes up that you think is newsworthy.
This week I would particularly like to discuss covering weekend events. I want to start more of a sports page or community events page for the newspaper but I can anticipate running into a few difficulties doing this.
The big difficulty lies in the fact that most sports events take place on the weekends. The weekends are supposedly my days off from work and often I will be out of town at a rural reporters’ association meeting, for example, which I believe is related to my job anyway because it helps me to be a better journalist. Or sometimes I just want to take some time off to relax.
I am sure that you can understand I am entitled to some days off. This week, for example, I spent a lot more time on the newspaper than the 40 hours for which I am paid.
I spent about 10 hours laying out last week’s paper on Monday. For this week, I have written about 14 stories. For each story I took about one hour to interview the person and approximately two hours to write the article. That makes 42 hours alone. Plus, there was travelling time, taking photographs, developing film, answering the phone, talking with people about story ideas, and sitting through two fairly lengthy evening meetings this week. So I probably worked about 60 to 70 hours last week, but who’s counting?
However, I do want to include weekend events in the newspaper because they are of interest to the community. I think we might be able to work out a few compromises so I will be able to do this.
If you could given me a call during the week. Maybe by Wednesday or Thursday, to let me know that any event you are involved in over the weekend is taking place I will try to schedule going out to cover the event around my free weekend time.
If you call me on the weekend concerning the event, chances are I will not have time to go out and take photographs of it because you have not given me time to schedule for it.
This week I knew about two curling bonspiels a couple of days in advance do I was able to give them a bit of coverage. But I found out about the carnival on the weekend and I just could not find enough time to get out to it as I already had several stories, for which I had already interviewed the people, to write on both Saturday and Sunday.
But just because I either do not have time to cover an event on the weekend or if I am out of time, does not mean details on the event will not get into the newspaper. People have already come into the office with photographs they took of weekend events, that I could not cover, and details on them. If you would like to do this, I will do my best to make sure the information and/or pictures are printed in the paper.
Also, because I am already working a lot of overtime I will not be able to let people read the articles, for which I have interviewed them, before the stories are published in the newspaper.
Instead, I would like to encourage you to write a “Letter to the Editor” if you have any criticisms of the stories I write. Of course, if I should receive any letters telling me I did a good job on an article I won’t throw those in the garbage either.
But seriously now. I think letters to the editor are an interesting aspect of a newspaper and I welcome letters of any nature providing that they are not in poor taste (i.e. obscene).
I am also looking for people I can interview for human interest stories. For example, some of the human interest stories which I wrote in Gravelbourg included a man who repaired saddles, two artists, a man who raised canaries, a quilt maker, an arrowhead collector, a woman who has kept scrapbooks of newspaper articles since the early 1900’s, and the list goes on and on and on.
This week I wrote stories on Lorraine Korbo, who is an artist, and Linda Balysky, the special education teach at Coronach School. Both these stories could fall within the human interest or feature article category as the general story I have prepared on the Kinsmen would.
Marj, one of my co-workers here, has already given me a lot of human interest story ideas and other I have met in my travels over the week have done the same. Over the next couple of weeks I particularly need such story ideas for the Fife Lake and Big Beaver areas but I will continually need story ideas of this sort for the entire Borderland Reporter readership area.
Next week: Can a newspaper survive on stories alone?
For earlier articles in this blog, please go to http://www.writingsmall.wordpress.com
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester can be purchased directly from the author or you can read its first few pages and/or buy it on amazon.com