Teachers – Part 1

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Teachers – Part 1

Each career hides secrets that are seldom told. Now, I want to reveal a few lying behind my own resume.

Behind each job description and professional skill on a resume lies an untold secret: that the resume holder was deeply influenced and carefully taught by many people along the way.

In thinking about my career, I decided I wanted to thank those who have had the biggest impact on me over the years. It is impossible to list everyone but these are the people who I’d like to know, publicly, how much I have appreciated their help.

Part 1: Newspaper Days

While at the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Neighbors sections in the 1980s, I worked with dozens of editors and copyeditors who helped me hone my writing craft at the very beginning of my career. I could list every one of them as having a huge impact on my professional development, but a few stood out because we spent so much time together editing my stories.

At the suburban Main Line edition, my first editors — Dick Cooper (who had also taught me news writing at Temple University) and Gary Farrugia — guided a green writer into the surprisingly challenging worlds of municipal governance and police reporting. Later, Sandy Bauers worked with me paragraph by paragraph to reorganize each article’s structure. She would print out the story on a long roll of dot matrix-printed paper (the kind that had the tear off row of holes on the side) and use handwritten arrows and notations to guide me. That’s dedication. Bill Marimow convinced a very reluctant young me to take a job at the paper’s Horsham bureau as the next step in my career development. He was right.

Once in Montgomery County, I covered schools and feature articles and was taught ever-so-firmly but surely by editors Lil Swanson and Ewart Rouse. Ewart, in particular, became my personal writing coach, taking up where Sandy had left off. Together, we hacked and shaped dozens of articles, spending hours each week reviewing each word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph. I believe our epic editing sessions frightened some of our colleagues. Ewart was quiet but firm and absolutely stubborn and I was equally stubborn and, in contrast, rather loud in my arguments back, I’m afraid. But, I was still learning to trust my own observations and instincts and he helped me get over my insecurities. He focused on two key features of an article’s structure: the lede and the nut graf, as we wrote them then. He wrote wonderful ledes and many of my early stories ended up with my reporting but HIS leads, which took me a while to not feel guilty about. As an editor, he taught me that his job was to collaborate WITH me to make the article the best it could be. As for the nut graf, I’ve written a whole separate essay about the importance of this critical factor that both positions the article as to why the reader should read on as well as hints at what will be coming in the rest of the piece. In short, the nut graph explains why the readers should care about the topic.

Ah, Ewart, my dear writer friend. Nearly three decades on, the two of us are still in touch, but this time talking about our fiction endeavors. And, our roles are a bit switched as now he sends me his novels and I give him feedback. He is, hands down, the person who had the biggest, direct impact on my skill as a writer today.

These are the six people I worked most closely with, but here were many other editors who had an influence: Connie Langland, Will Sutton, Gwen Florio, and others. While the six editors above were working closely with me, the others were working closely with other reporters in the bureau.

To all of them, thank you for teaching us the art and craft of journalism.

[Image courtesy of Todd Petrie]