The Words Matter

So, this blog thing seems to be turning into a series of vignettes about – my life. A public diary of sorts.  That’s okay.  I was always most comfortable writing in my own voice.

The newspaper I worked for in California had a weekly column each of us staff writers were allowed to prepare something for once a month. It was my favorite type of writing that I did, with feature stories a close second.  Both allowed me to use creative skills more hemmed in by the conventional reporting I did about nuclear power, agriculture, education and the like.

My male colleague, Jerry, used to chide me for including so much personal reflection in my columns. He preferred to write about journalism as a craft and why we made the decisions we made as reporters.  I was always willing to spill my guts to the world.  Most of the feedback I got for doing it was positive.

Audiences assume they “know” the personalities they see on certain types of shows, be they news programs or “reality” TV shows. As I have made my way through life, I have decided in the end no one truly knows anyone completely.  We all have a hidden part that we keep locked up, certain there could be no forgiveness for what seems like that one unpardonable sin-the one that will separate us from the other.

I was shopping in a grocery store with my friend Theresa in Monterey one day. She was the local TV anchor there at the time.  An excited viewer came up and started gushing, a flood of fandom that was profuse and directed to my friend.  I was invisible to her because I was not on TV. She never even knew I was standing there.  Then there was the time we were shopping in Carmel and a man walking by us literally tripped on a crack in the sidewalk looking at Theresa as she passed.  She didn’t bat one of her beautiful azure eyes.

My first published newspaper story ran my freshman year in high school. My family had moved 30 minutes over the border into Ohio so my Dad could have his dream of running his own restaurant (both my parents were fabulous cooks; me, I can’t boil water).

I wrote about our town’s first female newspaper reporter, a woman named Hortense Saunders who was a contemporary of Mary Margaret McBride, a radio personality who got her start in radio in the 1930’s giving out advice to women. I should remember more about Hortense Saunders than her name, but I really can’t.  Fourteen was a long time ago.

I distinctly remember my grade of “F” on the first college article I wrote for Journalism 101. It was not because the article was poorly written.  In fact, my professor, Mr. Hayes, assured me I would have gotten an “A” except for the fact that I forgot to verify how our local airline spelled its company name.  I had written “Swift Air” instead of “Swift Aire.”  It was an assumption.  Or a lack of attention to my surroundings. My then husband and I were new to the area.   In journalism, getting the name correct is a basic and violating a rule so simple makes the rest of what you report suspect.  I made it to the bathroom before I cried.  But I never made that mistake in a story again.

There were other violations of journalistic rules, I am sure. Still, by and large I got good feedback on my articles, especially when it came to quoting what someone said.  Those few months I spent in secretarial school learning shorthand paid off differently than I had thought they would.  As much in life does.

For those who are probably thinking, gee, this chick always wanted to be a journalist – why did she give it up? Sorry.  You are wrong.  My childhood dream was to grow up to be Perry Mason.  It was my favorite show to watch with my mother, and we watched a lot of TV together over the years.  Still, I do see the link between the two.

It was all about the words and the impact they had, on the cross-exam or the page.

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