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Editorial page assistant
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editorial page assistant
The Daily Reflector
Why did you become a journalist?
I suppose it was a combination of a number of interests: a love of writing and of news; a need to inform others of events; and the joy I find in newspapers, which were always around my home growing up.
All these items have remained powerful forces throughout my life. As a child, I took great pleasure in being the bearer of information to adults, be it the breaking story on television, something I had heard on the radio or otherwise. I remember distinctly being the child who told his class about the Challenger explosion in 1986. I was in fourth grade at the time, and rushed back from the library to tell my classmates and teacher. Nobody believed me, of course.
I have also had a great love for writing. I recall writing little blurbs for my middle school's newsletter about class events. I suppose it was my first taste of reporting. My current position is just a natural escalation of all those things. Journalism has given me the opportunity to make a living doing something I like, something that comes naturally to me.
What are your main duties as an editorial page assistant?
I write editorials, maintain the Public Forum (our letters to the editor) lay out the page daily, edit syndicated columnists and help administrate the daily upkeep of the editorial page (planning, making changes to columnists, conversing with readers, etc.). Every day is a different combination of all of these duties. I am also a part-time copy editor when the copy desk needs me to pitch in. I act as the extra copy editor in case we're shorthanded on a given day.
Generally, editorial assistants are entry-level jobs. How did you create a niche for yourself that includes penning editorials?
My position was an entry-level job. I am the first person at The Daily Reflector to have a full-time position doing what I do (editorial page assistant and copy editor). I wrote editorials while in high school and college. That was my writing strength -- arguing my opinions -- and I included editorials in my clips when I was hunting for jobs. The Reflector's position included writing editorials, and I was committed to finding a position that afforded me the opportunity to write.
This newspaper is unique in that it is a small daily paper that puts a great emphasis on the opinion page. Few papers of this size would devote the resources of two full-time employees to writing editorials and keeping up an opinion page. So I also suspect that the niche in Greenville opened just as I was looking for that same niche to fill.
Is it unusual for a person your age to be an editorial writer on a daily newspaper?
From my limited interaction with other newspapers and their editorial writers, I suspect so. Certainly the weeklies have journalists who do it all -- report, take photos, write editorials and do layout -- and those numerous responsibilities often require youthful enthusiasm. But ordinarily an editorial writer is a reporter first and sometimes an editor next before finding a position writing editorials. When I told someone at an editorial writers' conference how I became an editorial writer out of college, he claimed I missed the best part of journalism. But this is what I've always wanted to do in journalism, and I feel fortunate to have this opportunity. This was my first job and I am only 25 years old. I don't think that's an industry standard.
How do you balance your many duties (writing, editing, layout, pagination, etc.) and how did you train for them?
Balance can be a problem. The secret is in planning. The editorial page editor, Mary Schulken, is an exceptional planner and keeps us on track for production and output on a weekly basis. We establish clear priorities for our page, and then make sure to meet them, both in our daily output and our long-term planning. We try to keep each page fresh and the content in concert with the news, so one can't work too far in advance. But you can consider what will be happening that you can plan for, identify potential potholes and so on, well in advance.
As for training, I have worked on a newspaper nearly nonstop since my sophomore year in high school. I feel my ability stems from the help and encouragement of talented coworkers throughout that period, my dedication to be good at what I do and repetition. Welcoming criticism and recognizing others' ideas for improvement are keys to success in this business.
What kind of research do you do before you write an editorial? And how much time do you have to write one?
I use whatever is necessary and available to solidify my thinking on an editorial's topic before writing it. I use a diversity of sources -- books, history, stories from our newspaper and other newspapers, informed experts -- to clarify my arguments.
Perhaps the greatest advent of our time is the Internet, which puts multitude of sources a few clicks away. Every major newspaper is online. Many public records are now online. A wealth of information exists electronically, if the user knows where to find it. And using the Net saves time, which is critical in a small shop such as ours.
We are in a constant battle to produce clear, thoughtful editorials and to have them done quickly. One can constantly tinker with an editorial, change a word here and there should one choose, but the deadline always looms for the next day's page.
Can you explain why the journalists who write editorials work independently of colleagues who work in the main newsroom as reporters, etc.?
I think the division benefits reporters more than editorial writers. However, that separation helps the newspaper and is critical to a newsroom.
An editorial writer can learn a lot about a given subject by talking with the beat reporter who covers that subject. They have background and context for a given subject -- information that can strengthen an editorial. But editorial writers rely on their views and beliefs to execute their duties in a newsroom. Reporters cannot have that bias in their work, and work best without exposure to it.
In conjunction with that, a newspaper's greatest asset is its credibility and impartiality. That begins in a newsroom and the elimination of impropriety or slant in that working environment. Readers will unfortunately always accuse journalists of bias and of skewing stories toward a particular political preference. Should those readers have the opportunity to learn about a newspaper's production, or to spend time in a newsroom, I think they would see things differently.
How much contact do you have with readers in your daily work?
As an administrator of the letters section, I deal with readers constantly. Those who disagree with your views will always make sure you know it. That can be frustrating, as it can feel as though no one agrees with your argument. But the opinion page is a forum of ideas, a place where opposing views are debated. Readers who agree are less likely to write -- their view has already been argued in the editorial. It's critical to have interaction with readers. It helps you to remember for whom you are writing.
What advice do you have for aspiring journalists, especially those whose ambition is to write editorials?
The best advice to future editorial writers is to be aware of the world you live in and to consider the importance of actions. Think about the events that unfold daily and your feelings about them. What issues are most important to you? What is your belief system, your most important values? These will be the basis on which your arguments are built.
Second, the key to good editorial writing is in learning that specific art of journalism. A good architect studies the successful architects who preceded him. Read editorials daily. See where each newspaper stands. Read the winning editorials on the Pulitzer Web site, or those of other editorial awards. Then think about the issues that that they raise. Do you agree or disagree? Why? And how would you have argued it differently? Consider the way an argument is made, the information used.
And read, read, read. Editorial writing demands that you become a partial expert on a variety of topics that crop up. Knowing the specifics of a topic lends credibility to your argument; no reader will be convinced by an editorial should you make factual errors or fail to demonstrate your understanding of a given topic. Seeking information and a thirst to learn are of the utmost importance