Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Sad when you think of his wasted life

HOW I BECAME A HACK Part two. After two years as tea boy (Part one) I became a junior reporter at a district office serving morning, evening and (mostly) weekly papers. Picking up:

Shorthand. (Above) Chrysanthemum and herbaceous border in Pitman. A 1000-word article based on a chrysanthemum society techno-talk demands shorthand. Memory alone is inadequate and dangerous. I had 100 wpm certificate, could write 120 wpm but bad handwriting meant bad shorthand. Later, shorthand hindered my writing ability. Shorthand recorded what was said not what was done; this inhibited comment and imagination.

Interviewing. Haphazard, self-taught: uneducated youth struggling in adult-dominated society. Teaching oneself to ask: Your husband was killed today in car crash, what school did he go to?

Understanding institutions. Meetings of special-interest groups, local councils, governing bodies of churches, etc, follow patterns. Certain events within a pattern are newsworthy, others not. Vital to understand patterns of procedure at courts-at-law. Contempt of Court provisions permit unlimited punishment for unwary.

Typing. Self-taught with high level of motivation. Guideline: ability to write 1000-word article in one hour on to typewriter from scratch.

Writing style. Theoretically unimportant since articles were formulaic. However, a better style might catch the eye of someone important. Other reasons: pride and cuttings book.

What is news? Overrated judgment picked up by almost everyone after two weeks in journalism. Definition: a tiny exception in a dross pile of the expected. Sometimes a fact; more often something said. Recognition tip: newsworthy stuff comes with its own implicit headline.

Endurance. Sixty-hour weeks common. Social life so fragmented I drank during brief interstices as my only hobby. Avoiding clichés, I became one.

Part three. Learning to write


Lucy said...

I attempted a course in shorthand in my mid-twenties, and rapidly came to the conclusion Biblical Hebrew would be an easier option, albeit one I did not take up.

I think if my husband were killed in a car crash I would prefer to be asked factual questions about where he went to school than the ubiquitous and face-slap-meriting 'How do you feel?' beloved of the post-Diana, post Feargal Keene school of interviewing.

Rouchswalwe said...

Shaking my head yes, agreeing with Lucy's point about the interview question asked at a terrible time. And your point, "newsworthy stuff comes with its own implicit headline" has me thinking which headlines I dip down into the text for when I peruse the NYT, which is the only daily I look at(on-line) these days. I tend to listen to my news in the mornings on NPR (National Public Radio).

Anne said...

I am enjoying these posts, and looking forward to the next one about learning to write.

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: There are intellectual arguments in defence of poor shorthand speed, and I have used them all. Perhaps you would have progressed further had you found yourself in a reverse version of one of the classes I took - female teenagers bar me. "Would you read that back Sandra? Would you read that back Teresa? Would you read that back Mr. Bonden?"

I agree about futile interview questions which cause me to grind my teeth. However, just as a frisson at one of these post-mortality occasions, I seem to recall acting the role of first informant as well.

RW (zS): I didn't have the NYT in mind since their headlines tend to suffer from an acute naiveté. The rationale is perfectly justifiable: information only without a trace of wit. True headline writing reaches its apogee in the no-doubt apocalyptic: Nut bolts, screws washer, which I will translate for you when you're much older.

Anne: I fear you may well have been disappointed. The post - now posted - was limited to 300 words as with all my posts.

Rouchswalwe said...

Oh! I must be getting on in years, for I laughed at that one instead of blushing as a lady should have. Na ja!