This interview with another of our graduates from Slippery Rock’s English Writing (Professional) program took place in December, 2008. When we were transcribing and analyzing the interviews in late winter and early spring of 2009, there were several news stories about the demise of print newspapers, with big daily papers in Denver and Seattle either shutting down completely or going solely digital, while still others were making large cuts in editorial staffs and shrinking circulation areas. Four of our interviewees were working for daily or weekly newspapers in one capacity or another, and all of them had relatively small circulations. These newspapers appeared to be surviving and making money, perhaps because they remained the primary advertising outlet for businesses within their circulation areas, without direct competition from television and radio stations, or from such Internet-dwelling entities like Craigslist. The editor in our title will be profiled in this posting and the next.
The subject is the editor of a weekly newspaper with “approximately 2000 subscribers,” as well as newsstand sales, located in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and serving three municipalities, and their surrounding townships with populations totaling over 20,000. These communities are also just west of a port city on Lake Erie with a population of around 104,000. “I’m responsible for writing the articles, editing the articles, taking photos, editing and laying out all the photos, and all editorial copy.” Apart from articles about sports, press releases, and wire material, the subject produces all the editorial copy for the paper, which relies on a publisher and CEO, the editor, a sports writer, an advertising representative, and a graphic designer. Her potential audience is anyone “who lives in my community,” including “a good sized business community.”
Throughout the interview, the subject’s engagement with her community was obvious and, while she regarded opinion writing only a fractional part of her job, it was clear that she saw part of her role as stimulating interest and participation among the area’s residents. “Most of the time with persuasion in my articles, it’s more or less persuading them to do different things, to go different places, to talk to people about something, maybe talk to the council or their school boards, things of that nature, vis-à-vis, telling them what is new, what they need to know …” As an example, she directed us to an article about the local library’s fund drive and another about a membership drive for the local paramedics association. “Because if they don’t [contribute], they might have to cut things out of their budget, they might not have people that are going to be there to answer the phones, take calls, or drive the ambulance.”
When she does write an editorial, like on the occasion of the September 11th anniversary or to encourage a more authentic engagement with Christmas, the subject is inspired by a news or Internet item or something someone tells her. And sometimes space issues prevent her from acting on the impulse to write opinion, as in the case of arson involving an historic wooden bridge. “It was built in 1868. And I heard lots of different things about it, but … that was just one of those things that just … made me angry, because people, some kid, somebody just went out and … burned this bridge down.” The consolation was that others wrote letters to the editor expressing something of her own outrage.
Stylistically, the subject is very aware of the need for precision and accuracy, especially when doing stories about political or criminal activity, getting names and direct quotes correct, and avoiding language implying judgment. “Harder news is going to be shorter sentences, and be more to the point, get everything in it as quickly as you can so people can read it, and they know immediately what’s happening, when it happened, how it happened. With the lighter news, you can take your time with it a little more, you can make the sentences longer, you can add more descriptions, more quotations …” This difference between “hard” and “light” news extends to technique, with the subject more likely to use a digital voice recorder, as well as pen and paper, when gathering interviews for a “harder” story. Composing takes place directly on the computer, and she shares her copy with the editor of another small-town paper, since she doesn’t have a copy editor of her own. “So when you wrote something, it’s personal to you, so you can’t read it and necessarily catch all the mistakes you may have made. You may have put an ‘an’ instead of an ‘a’ or things like that and she’ll catch it and I won’t. So we do swap stories and help each other out. It makes life a little easier that way.” The two will also help each other with word choices and organization, employing the review toolbar included in Microsoft Word.
For layout, the subject used Quark Express, Adobe In Design CS4, and Photo Shop CS4, with In Design scheduled to replace Quark at the paper. For photos, she used a digital camera and a scanner for submitted images. Printing of the paper occurs at the facilities for another small publication owned by the same company, located in the southeast corner of the same county. One other technical aspect was that she uses an Apple MacIntosh at her job, after using PCs throughout college. “I think I touched a Mac like twice at Slippery Rock and then … I got my job and my boss puts a Mac right in front of me and I’m going, ‘Oh, what am I going to do?’ Because I don’t know how to use it. But you learn.”