I wanted to be a preacher, but I found when speaking to decent folk I couldn’t use the words I’m most fond of. I wanted to be a teacher, but you can’t teach what people most need to know in school, there are laws against it. They shoot revolutionaries. So I had no choice but to write for newspaper.
Writing for the newspaper makes you an expert on everything for just a second. You can do a little research and then blab for 500 words. I once worked for an editor, a well known local character who still abuses words for a living, who told me "however great you might think the piece is, don’t forget that in two days it’s going to be covered in parakeet crap." That’s the nature of writing for a newspaper, the words flow, they’re enjoyed, and then they go to the recycle bin and everyone forgets them.
You might think words created for an online newspaper would escape the parakeet crap, but no, your words are still covered up by everything else that litters the internet. I’d prefer the budgie poo.
If I’d been a preacher, I would have been sincere, and when I preached angels you’d smell flowers, and when I threatened damnation, you’d sweat from the heat. It’s no different writing for the news.
Much news writing is like floor sweeping. We all know what we want to see in certain kinds of reports, who-what-when-where-why. We can write those, as the saying goes, "with a monkey on your lap." It doesn’t take much. Sometimes we re-write a press release to make it seem like news. It isn’t pretty, but it’s easy.
Other writing, though, is much more of an art. I think of it as "what the hell, who the hell and why the hell." By its nature, news reporting is talking about something that is "all over but the shoutin’." It already happened, sometimes too fast or too slow to see. Our craft is to make sense of truth, to try to show how some quiet things are important, and how some noisy things are nothin’ but noise.
Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but as we sit at our keyboards writing, we’re thinking of you. We try to tell you what you want to know, but mostly we think of you because each story is a favor we ask of you: please, give us a minute of your time. Give us your attention for 500 words, we’ll try to entertain you and include you in what’s going on in the world.
Awhile back I encountered a local guy and he said, "oh, you’re that internet newspaper fella. I read your article the other day and thought to myself ‘what bullshit.’" I was deeply flattered. With all the things there are calling for his attention, he read my article, and he thought about it enough to decide it was bullshit. I can’t ask for more than that.
That kind of up front, in your face honesty is probably hard to come by as a preacher.