Monday, January 19, 2009
What It Takes
My Typical Workday
Mapping it Out
Shooting the Breeze
My Morale Boosted
When Jack hands me one of his own stories to edit, he says, "Will you work your magic on this?" It's nice to feel needed and to feel as if I'm good at something.
My Many Hats
managing editor, city editor, copy editor, line editor, editor-in-chief. Imagine the luxury of having only one of these jobs. My job title at the McKinleyville Press is Assistant Editor. What does that mean? It means I take off one hat and put on another about 10 times in the course of a single work shift.
Young and Old
Similarly, some teenage students send us stories, and it is my job to reorganize their work so that readers get the basic information, while still preserving the charming, schoolgirlish tones of the writing. These "developing writers" are my domain because it gives me pleasure to work with their ideas. One is very, very young and has a city-girl-in-the-country approach. Another is a high school drama student who buries her facts under dozens of adjectives, adverbs and modifiers, with everything magnified to mythical proportions. Remember being like that? I do.
I type in the week's birth announcements and marvel aloud at the interesting, ponderous names these tiny new humans have been given. Stories rise off the page at me from every line: new life, changed lives. Recently, I convinced my boss we should add a note of welcome and congratulations to the end of the plain list of new arrivals.
My most gentle editing is on obituaries. I repair mistakes and don't allow any indignities to sneak in. I'm aware these are tributes to loved ones. I'm aware that, like birth announcements, these are likely to be clipped out and kept until the newsprint turns yellow, pasted into a scrapbook perhaps, read again and again. Like with birth announcements, whole stories unfold before me. Lives well lived, lives cut short, lives that touched others, lists of accomplishments and of names of survivors whose hearts now ache with loss.
Advocating for the Reader
I sometimes feel impatient with the inconsistencies of the writing, but in working with these press releases, I think of myself as the Readers' Advocate. What does the reader want to know about? What information will readers need? The readers' needs are my guiding principles--those and the AP Manual of Style. So I rework things as much as necessary in service to our readers.
Sighing and Grumbling
I have to do a lot of fact-checking. How in the world did fact-checkers work without the internet? I'm good at this part and enjoy it in a strange way. It involves research, which I like. During the course of this phase of my work shift, I become temporarily versed on all sorts of things, from tsunamis to the Brown Act.
I grumble about the necessity to apply AP style to the work of people who should already know it. I grumble about grammatical things, like subordination of ideas and clauses. I grumble about bias, objectivity, relevance, and the lack of front-loaded, reader-based prose.
My boss listens to the police-radio scanner and studiously ignores me.
Our Theme Song
The barking radio scanner is the soundtrack for our work. We hear firefighters, ambulances and deputies getting dispatched for fires, accidents, disturbances and domestic violence. Last night there were a lot of drunk drivers in McKinleyville. Announcements over the scanner are often followed by loud sirens and honking that drifts in on the night through our open window. The strangest part is that we hear the calls, the beginnings, the alarms, but we rarely find out how the smaller dramas end.
Writing Off the Cuff
Pick up the McKinleyville Press any time, and you will rarely see my byline on any stories. I'm invisible, but I'm there.
This has actually happened: I am handed an advance copy of a book I've never laid eyes on before, and within an hour or less, I have written a little preview of it. I never know, when I arrive, what or if I will be writing.
When I write, Jack edits me, because no writer in her right mind publishes without an editor. This is why blogging is kind of a wild, risky, renegade activity for a writer.
Last, after all this is done, comes page-proofing. Jack prints out the pages one by one, and I sit down with a pen to mark them up. The headlines and photo cutlines are the trouble spots, where type-os sneak in, so I check them carefully.
It is now that I see the photos for the first time. I fall in love with all the dogs and cats up for adoption at the animal shelter. I smile at the Girl Scouts and the wonderful holiday and community shots my boss has taken during the week: bingo games, quilting circles, trick-or-treaters, visits from Santa, and youthful athletes. These are the heart and soul of a community newspaper. It's fun for readers to see themselves or someone they know in the newspaper.
Until Next Time
When I finish, I tidy my desk, pack away my computer, and try to leave the place nice for the next deadline day.
My boss always sees me to my car, because he is an old-fashioned gentleman, and there is a rowdy bar just across the street, often with drunken revelers still hooting and hollering.
Jack always thanks me for my hard work as I wave goodbye and climb into my car.
See also: Rambling Jack's Laboratory: How we put out the McKinleyville Press
Thanks to all the sites from which I borrowed these fun illustrations.