The Accidental Diva: My First Month As a College Journalist

Attention conservation notice: The Blue Banner faculty sponsor critique was today, Tuesday. This is how it all went down when my error-packed professor profile got publicly critiqued in a room full of mass comm students.

(Dang, do y’all remember when I used to write about math all the time? Now I write about writing all the time. Feel like I’m finally getting the blog’s title right.)

My first Mass Comm classes continue to sock it to me everywhere I need it. Already in the paid professional work I’m doing this week there’s a big difference in my writing. It’s tighter and less trite.

You may not think of me as a trite writer, and in this blog I try hard not to be. But some editors and some publications have actively encouraged cutesiness, and I’ve picked up some bad habits. Not to mention that triteness is a form of writerly laziness, and a symptom of lack of formal training.

Today in class I sat next to a young writer named Jon who took newswriting in high school. He knew I was a professional writer, and asked me if I was bored with the Newswriting class. BORED???? I am only reinventing myself as a no-bullshit grammar badass. I can’t say that I’m bored, Jon.

But he was. He’s had all this before and is acing every quiz. At this point I’d just like to thank the universe for handsome, self-possessed young men. It’s nice to have someone to talk to as an equal, and interesting to hear that what is transformative and vital to me is ho-hum to my young classmate.

So. Tuesday, today, was the weekly critique of the college paper. It’s done in a lecture hall by the paper’s faculty sponsor, a very cool ex newspaper guy. I grabbed a copy of the paper to review, and to look at my profile of Cynn Chadwick.

I wasn’t happy with the changes made in the Chadwick profile. I’m used to bad editing, so I can handle it.

And I could easily see why the changes made didn’t always serve the article.

Sentences got cut, reordered and chopped up to allow the editors to work around errors I’d made. The editors moved a quote out of its context, making the article read like Chadwick may have been serious when she said an education saved her from being a “crack-addicted prostitute in Weehawken.” If we’d worked together in a newsroom, the editor and I, I could have spotted the problem and made changes that served the article as well as the AP Stylebook. But I don’t get to see or talk to the editors, and the unfortunate changes they made that I could have helped them do better, stayed in.

And so the article was free of my ignorant AP style errors, but some of the changes involved the insertion of generic, listless writing I’d never have committed to paper, and  making it sound like Chadwick narrowly escaped prostitution when in fact she had financial and emotional support all through college, and came from a loving family.

Sigh. LOL I hope someone that loves her is enjoying the hell out of all this. And I hope more students learn about a very unusual and interesting writing professor.

So I went to the newspaper critique not quite nervous, but well aware that my article was the work of a journalistic amateur. I am not nervous about being criticized. I’m not so much thick-skinned as I am confident and very used to being critiqued. It goes with the profession, and it almost always makes you better at what you do.

My first writing mentor really kicked my ass over the bad writing I did as a beginner. He actually almost made me cry. And I am actually very grateful, as he made my writing much better, very quickly. And the faculty sponsor, while honest, is never cruel.

And of course he raved about the article to the point of starting “who wrote that?” chatter, and even declared that my sidebar question (“What kind of student impresses you most?”) should be asked in all future Banner profiles. Which of course is much more the kind of thing that I am used to, but let me tell you, was NOT what I was expecting today.

So far in my college career I seem to be the writer that readers love and copy editors have had to take aside for retraining twice in two weeks. An accidental diva.

Go figure.

PS: I am tired lately, y’all, and working hard all day. I don’t know how interesting my blog will be this semester, or how much I’ll post. We’ll find out together.

One response to “The Accidental Diva: My First Month As a College Journalist

  1. I start college next week and plan to add a Journalism major (I’m currently only Business) as soon as I get there. It was great reading about your first month! Good luck with everything. :-)

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