Let’s move on to some more Writers’ Profiles. Our next three subjects, with one appearing each week, are graduates of our Journalism program. Two work on newspapers, while the third is an “on-air personality” for a local radio station. All do a considerable amount of writing, both consciously persuasive and public in nature.
Our first journalism alumnus graduated from Slippery Rock in 2006 and apparently went to work for a small daily newspaper shortly thereafter, currently serving as its sports editor. The paper is located in a town of around 4,500 just east of the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania’s northwestern tier. The newspaper itself, published Mondays through Saturdays, has a circulation of 2,656 copies, according to the media web site Mondo Times. This readership is less than that of the Rocket, the university’s student-run weekly, which circulates 3,000 copies of each issue. The town serves as the seat of government for a large but sparsely populated (less than 35,000 in the last census) county known for its game, its natural beauty, and its conservative religious and political views.
The subject supplied us with plenty of writing samples (23), all of which are pieces he wrote for his newspaper. During the interview he also mentioned writing a blog sporadically. Visiting it, one finds ruminations about weekend activities, contacts with friends, and his romantic interests. In short, the blog seems neither intentionally persuasive nor public in essence; while any one might visit it, it was apparent that few readers, and those obviously acquaintances, had been moved to make comments on its postings. His was what Rettberg would call a “diary blog” and not one that was regularly sustained. The professional work is diverse enough, consisting not only of stories about the games and seasons of local high school teams, but also of opinion columns about pro football, and some general reporting. (A native who had done well in business, the advent of wireless 911 service in the county, and a technique for keeping hunting dogs hydrated are three examples.)
The subject knows the main reason for people to buy his paper is for the “local content” they wouldn’t get anywhere else. “Our paper comes out in the morning, but if you have the internet, you know about that stuff already. So you have to give the people something fresh, something that they’re not going to find anywhere else, that’s going to be exclusive to the paper.” (The paper does have a web-site.) He is also sensitive to his audience in terms of using a vocabulary accessible to readers without college experience, and he worries about demeaning student-athletes in a small town. “They’re playing to the best of their ability, and really, a lot of them just do it to do it, for something to do. So I think there has to be a little level of sensitivity.”
Regarding the writing technology used by the subject, he has a voice recorder and a McIntosh with Quark Express (desktop publishing), Adobe In Design (more up-to-date), Photo Shop (for cropping and sizing photos), and Text Editor (not much different from Word). He also transcribes his interviews from the voice recorder because “they’re not real long, like two or three minutes. …And from there …I see what they say and get an idea of how I want to structure the quote for the story … I usually copy and paste.” This practice of importing source material directly into a draft and then pruning was also used by an earlier writer we’ve profiled, the editor of a small-town weekly who graduated from our professional writing program. The subject also does his own photography when on a story, using a Canon EOS digital camera. “We have no more 35 millimeter film cameras. I’ve seen the dark room. That era is … There’s no more of those cameras.”
He credits several of his journalism courses for learning the “process” of developing a story, and for style. Courses mentioned include Feature Journalism, Advanced Reporting, and New Media. The subject emphasized the value of practice as an undergraduate (he also worked as a reporter and sports editor for the Rocket) and of learning the ethics of journalism. The editorial staff is apparently responsible for placing their stories on the paper’s web site, usually after deadline because putting the paper out has top priority. We also discussed the importance of having a portfolio of article clips in hard copy for obtaining a job. “I wanted to show them also that this stuff has appeared in print. That is important to show.”
The newspaper has microfilm of all 106 years of issues to which the staff can refer, but not a “morgue” with clips broken down by category. “That’d be very tough for a paper of our size to do.” The subject primarily relies on the internet for background material but also described digging into old high school yearbooks for one story. The only research technique he still uses from college is “just talking to people” and interviewing is one activity that students should practice and seek to perfect. Once on the job he had to “learn where to look,” particularly for web-sites.
Rettberg, Jill Walker. Blogging. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2008.