What I Learned from Writing for the College Newspaper

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When I wrote a book review,
I learned how much I enjoyed doing so,
for reading it and writing about it
was like getting two for the price of one.

When I wrote a review on a vegan café,
I tried something new.

When I wrote a series of articles on volunteer opportunities,
I found out that skills and talent—
not just time and money—
were also needed.

When I wrote an article on college internships,
I learned that investing in yourself
always requires you to invest your time.

When I wrote a movie review,
I learned how to write movie reviews;
I also learned that I much preferred writing book reviews.

When I wrote an article about Toastmasters,
it led to Phi Theta Kappa
becoming involved with the organization.

When I wrote about clubs on campus,
I found out that worthwhile clubs don’t just meet,
but serve their local community.

When I wrote a story on one night of my life,
I found my journalistic niche.

When I wrote a mock syllabus,
I began to explore more forms of hybrid writing.

When I wrote about art on campus,
my interest in art and making it increased.

When I wrote a story on what I had learned from math,
I learned that it wasn’t math I learned (or at least remembered)—
it was that I could do difficult things,
and that math,
for non-math majors,
wasn’t just about solving equations,
but sharpening that attention to detail
that solving those equations required.

When I covered the literati and amateur nights on campus,
I learned how to gather quotes the introvert’s way.

When I wrote a story about professors switching careers,
I learned that it was never too late to change your mind—
that no education was ever wasted,
for it all led to our beautiful present.

When I wrote about editing a literary journal,
I learned that the process could be as interesting as the product.

When I wrote about a beloved professor who had passed away,
I learned that art wasn’t just good,
but it could be used to do good.

Through writing for my college newspaper,
I learned that I would never want to be a teacher—
save to my very own—
but I could be a tutor,
a mentor—
I could help others become better.

What I learned through doing,
I learned through writing—
in ways I never would have imagined.

But most of all,
I learned that there is a place for creativity in every vocation.

Letter from the Editor: Five Tips for Writing Feature Stories

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We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.
–Ernest Hemingway

So I am officially the Editor-in-Chief for the college newspaper in the fall, which will be my last semester at PSC.  I will graduate with an A.S., and, because I want to go farther, an A.A. (as I am so done with math).

If there’s one thing that the class from hell (i.e., Statistics) forced me to do, it was learn superior organization, which will come in handy when overseeing each issue.

Being a confirmed introvert, the idea of being a leader of anything is intimidating, but I tell myself, “I can do this.  They’re just people.”

I am very excited about this opportunity.  I wasn’t going to go for it, but let’s just say my adviser made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

*

Since my post about tips for writing college feature stories (https://sarahleastories.com/2017/02/04/feature-story-ideas-for-a-college-newspaper/) has, by a landslide, been my most popular post, I thought I’d share a few other things that have helped me not just become better but more prolific:

  • Be aware—not only of what is going on around you but also the people around you—pay attention to quirks, distinctive tattoos, and even cars with a bunch of crazy bumper stickers.  For example, on the first day of my ENC1102 class, my professor asked everyone to write something true and something untrue about themselves; the rest of the class was supposed to guess which was true and which was false.  Remember the true things that are interesting, and reach out to those students.
  • If you’re in online classes, and there is a “Get To Know You” discussion forum, read all the bios, but, as Troy Moon (a former columnist for The Pensacola News Journal) said, “Everyone has a story, but not all of them are interesting.”  
  • Craft your interview questions in such a way that you won’t get a yes or no answer, and do not use direct quotes like, “It was great.”  That’s so boring and generic, it’s paraphrasable.  Ask great questions, get good quotes.  
  • An easy way to gather quotes (speaking from an introvert’s point-of-view) is to cover events where people are speaking.  This way, you don’t even have to ask questions.  When I covered Carl Hiaasen, columnist for The Miami-Herald, I recorded his entire talk on my phone and got excellent (and accurate) quotes.  
  • Read other college newspapers in-depth, because all I’m doing is telling you how it’s done—they’re showing you.

My ultimate goal for our publication is to get more student names and faces in every issue, because, as Diane Varsi (as Allison MacKenzie) said in the 1957 movie, Peyton Place: “It was nice to come back to a place where the names in the newspaper meant something to you.”

That embodies the very idea of “community,” and The Corsair is a community college newspaper.

Updated 12/27/2019

Journalism Conference Notes

The Not-So-Great Missouri Robbery

So I’m in Dallas at a journalism conference (being not just the copy editor, but also an article writer for the student newspaper); I’ve always believed that a news story lasts a day, but a book lasts long after the writer’s body and soul have separated.  I remember in one of my English composition classes, my professor asked us to name a news story that changed our life; no one spoke up.  He then asked us if we could name a book that did, for which several had answers.

That said, I like to believe some newspaper articles mean something to someone (besides the writer), so I try to write them with that in mind.

My parents saved every article I was ever mentioned in, which I’ve scrapbooked.  Some articles do stand the test of time, if for no other reason than a person’s name is mentioned.

*

The above article, written in May of 1981, for the Daily American Republic of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, wasn’t very well-written.  But, like a snapshot, it captured a memory (one my parents would rather forget, I’m sure); I have an interest in it, because my mom was pregnant with me when she and my dad were robbed at gunpoint.  (But that’s another story for another day.)

I’m glad my parents kept this little write-up, for thirty-six years later, it gave me the idea I needed for the personal essay/narrative category I entered in this year’s college writing contest, entitled, “It Happened One Night in Poplar Bluff.”

*

So I’ve been poring over college newspapers from all over the country, and it’s amazing how much I learn from them.  My head is so full of ideas, it’s hard to take it all in.  I’ve also been attending different speaker sessions, and am supposed to leave with ten takeaways.  (I already have quadruple that because I pay attention and take notes–it’s as easy as that.)  What’s interesting isn’t so much what they say, but how what they say sparks ideas.  I’ve been outputting so much lately, it was time to get some sauce for my noodle.

I’m learning about layout and design (not my strong point because I’m already in front of a screen enough), photography (again, not my forte, unless it’s taking pictures of my daughter or pretty things I’ve baked), and that’s because I don’t have a very good camera; I don’t have the proper tools.  It’s like trying to bake with a crappy oven.

For now, I really like being a copy editor.  I feel like I’m the finishing touch fairy, and one great piece of advice I got when we got our paper critiqued was that with copy editing, “the eye is good for catching grammar, the ear, for content.”  Read everything you write out loud, because your eyes will fill in the blanks.

*

I was in Dallas with one of my fellow journalists yesterday when President Trump came to town.  Downtown Dallas is like the city of rose gold, a veritable concrete jungle; I stood out there in the dry, Texas heat for almost two hours among protesters and beating drums, with cops surrounding us (that I don’t mind–I felt much safer), as well as the local news gal in her royal blue dress and flip-flops.  All this we did, just to catch a flash of what we thought to be the car President Trump was in disappear into what we assumed to be an underground garage.  I was thinking, I am so not this kind of reporter.  I am such a columnist!

Being a weekly humor columnist would be my dream job.  It’s hard to know what you want, not knowing quite how to get it, but I know I will always be doing what I love, and that is writing, no matter what job I get (whether it be copy-editing or medical whatever).

*

Even though I’m not cut out to be an editor-in-chief (I don’t want it badly enough) or a hard news journalist (I prefer a little more creativity and not “just the facts, ma’am”), I am learning how to become a better writer by writing all kinds of stories–from volunteer columns to book and restaurant reviews to human interest stories.  That said, the only type of article I’ve yet to write is a sports piece–the thought of which makes me cringe, because I loathe sports.

However, if ever there’s another Intramural Archery session I can cover, I’ll make that the one sports story of my life.

Once, and done.