We strive to bring our readers all types of writing: poetry, memoirs, academic essays, expository essays, value-added essays, etc. Today, we have an essay from a former reporter. I enjoyed this fast paced memoir about her life on the job, it was a fun read. For those in the audience who are interested in becoming a reporter, it will be an intersting and informative read for you as well. Enjoy.
By Rachel Mendell
Up at 4 am. Out the door by 4:45 am before my family was awake. That’s how my day started as a reporter for the newspaper. I wasn’t sure how I could make it work, but we needed the extra money to get our budget breathing again. My husband is a good provider, but work was slow.
At the daily paper, I read pages, did edits, wrote stories and occasionally ran to take a photo before the 7:30 am deadline. I loved these exhilarating morning assignments. The only traffic to worry about was school buses and domestic athletes on their way to the YMCA. Grab a photo, rush back to the paper, download, write the cutline, submit, all while the editor is saying, “I needed it 10 minutes ago!” Then back to work on the next edition AFTER a fourth cup of coffee. We were always working a day ahead, sometimes two or three.
Writers Block is for wimps.
At 10 am, I was excused to go home to my primary job – homeschooling our six children. My oldest was in charge of any morning emergencies until I arrived home. Then the school day began. By 2 pm the work was finished. Free time included naps, reading, television, video games or watching a pre-approved movie. By the time my dear husband came home, I was ready to get back to the newspaper for interviews and meetings. Some days were easy, and I was home by 7 pm. Some evenings, usually Thursdays, were filled with late-night city council or school board meetings. Our readers expected a Thursday night school board story in their Friday morning edition, so, I would stay until the story was finished and filed (submitted) – sometimes until midnight. I worked quite a few 12 hour days.
The staff (which included the front desk, stringers, publisher, editor, graphics department and advertising) grew close and sometimes got into each others business. But that’s what happens when you share the stress. Election time was stressful; elected officials wanting ads bigger than their competitors, letters to the editor bordering on libelous, complaints about too much election coverage, complaints about not enough coverage. Then on election night, we all stayed up late to report returns with the added stress of trying to contact the losers for quotes (winners were easy to find).
One Friday night, while waiting for pages to read, I took some time to figure out how many words I was actually cranking out a day. I calculated that writing the required two stories per day for six editions per week equaled 1,500 words per day, polished and submitted. I took a moment to sip my Red Bull and relish the accomplishment. Some days were hell, no doubt about it, but at that moment I knew I had made it as a writer. My story files were bulging. I had to buy a second contact card box. I was learning to listen, to set myself aside for the story, to focus on one main point, to write clearly, and to list details to brighten a story.
It was a fast-paced life, but I’m not regretting a minute of it. Writing full-time (50 hours a week) was an incredible education. I learned to write quickly and type fast. I worked with seasoned newspaper staff, learned the ropes of politics and how far to push an elected official. I learned the complicated infrastructure of a state office, how to interview military people, doctors, CEOs, managers, business owners and state senators. I argued with lawyers. I hung out with school staff, took photos and handled complaints. I could bore people with finance and complicated grant funding. I could read a police report and write a short blurb that made sense. (I hated going to accidents and fires and usually begged off when I could.)
But most of all, I learned self-discipline in my writing. The stories HAVE got to get in. The newspaper stops for no one.
I grew a thick skin. Some of my editors were harsh and frequently threw back stories for a rewrite. It took months before I understood what they wanted. I learned every writer needs an editor. They sharpen us. They make us sound good.
I learned the art of creating a grabbing lede, writing a quirky cutline, and composing in the pyramid style. I struggled with transitional sentences and conclusions. But then one day an entire story seemed to write itself. The sports editor read it and said, “It doesn’t suck.”
I had arrived.
And I met some incredible newspaper people: a sports editor that typed over 100 words per minute with no mistakes, a retired editor who wrote sports and sometimes politics (a wealth of advice), a plucky reporter who knew she couldn’t get a raise unless she moved up to editor – and did at a sister paper, a young reporter who was swayed by her friends and stressed to the point of breaking, a retired photographer who always read my stories and gave me pointers on my photographs (and called me “Kid”), just to name a few.
It’s a crazy life and I highly recommend it for any writer wanting to stretch themselves. You may not write fluffy stories with happy endings but you can add details to a story in creative ways – ways that bring color and vibrancy, making the reader take note.
Don’t get me wrong. The newspaper will chew you up and spit you out. I’ve watched reporters and editors crash and burn. But if you love to write and have the energy you can make it, even if it’s just for a year, it’s worth it.
Rachel H.T. Mendell writes freelance from home in her office that she grabbed when her sixth child moved out, which is much nicer than the converted closet she wrote in for almost 20 years. Rachel writes novels, poetry, plays, essays, columns, articles, short stories, long letters, devotionals and experimental allegory. She has been published in various magazines as well as the Galion Inquirer, The Morrow County Sentinel, the Crestline Advocate and online at Richland Source. You can find a few of her articles in Heart of Ohio Magazine and floating around cyberspace. She keeps a blog, Domestic Mobility (http://domesticmobility.blogspot.com), and has recently started a website (http://www.rachelhtmendell.com). Rachel happily answers emails at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is married and has seven children and one grandson. When Rachel is not writing, she’s gardening, caring for chickens, rabbits and cats. She lives with her family in Morrow County, Ohio.
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