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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

Daily Writing

For years I would advise young people that after graduation, in whatever discipline, they take a year and work at a daily newspaper. Work habits on a newspaper are unlike anything else I knew.
I was lucky to be part of what I now see as American journalism's golden age. Working on a daily newspaper, back when they were great institutions (Norfolk's Virginian Pilot was one of them), meant meeting relentless deadlines. No fudging, no excuses allowed, the paper is coming out tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (to borrow a phrase). Being an editorial writer was tougher than anything I'd done before, or did after. The "editor" was uncompromising, he was responsible for the editorial page and to goof was to reflect on him and to provoke rage that sent one of my colleagues to the men's room to throw up. I goofed a few times, I still shudder thinking of his reaction.
When I began my career in journalism it was on a paper with a core of "old" reporters, most trained at Chapel Hill, who cared about writing. A few of them took time to mentor me (that wasn't unusual). One of them sent out newsletters that focused on issues of writing. They were witty and right on. We all took our task seriously.
We were all aware, and sometimes said it, that good writing is good thinking. So why isn't there a whole lot of analytical writing in today's schools? Why aren't children turning out more reporter-style work?
Novelist Michael Connelly, writing about his training as a journalist says, "It gave me a work ethic of writing every day and pushing through difficult creative times. I mean, there's no writer's block allowed in a newsroom. Those times also gave me an ear for dialogue and helped me learn that less is always more, to hone everything down to what's clear and important,"
I went from daily journalism to book writing. At first, when I got into the publishing world I was elated. Then I began to face the reality of the average workplace. No sense of urgency, constant excuses. I had a hard time believing what I was seeing. None of the (often bright) people I was dealing with could have lasted a week on a daily paper where excuses and dead wood can't be tolerated: the paper is coming out tomorrow morning.

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