My Stint As A Journalist

For the past several weeks I have been filling in at the Daily Globe. They’ve been a little short handed so they called in their second string. I’m okay with this moniker. I don’t want to be first string. First string would mean that I have to get up and go to work every day and, as I told my husband, bringing home a paycheck is hard work!

Ah, but it is rather nice to get paid for one’s writing.

On the other hand, I’ve had zero time to work on my book. Which to this point is showing no signs of generating a paycheck whatsoever. So I guess I’m okay with the occasional stint as a journalist.

I started out at the University of Oregon (GO DUCKS!) as a Journalism major. I planned to study Russian as well, and then go to Moscow as a foreign correspondent and uncover fabulous spy stories of the Cold War.

Only the Cold War pretty much ended before my career started. But, really, that’s not what ended my journalism career. It was J101 which did that.

Grammar For Journalists – the class that every journalism major had to take – and pass with a “B” – in order to be accepted into the J School.

And so fall term of my freshman year began. I leaped into J101 and Russian 101 full of confidence, a smile firmly upon my face.

Four months later I waved goodbye to my dream. I didn’t pass that stupid grammar class – oh, I passed…as far as the University was concerned – but not as far as the precious J School was concerned. It was, in fact, the worst grade I ever got in my entire educational life: K-12, college and graduate school combined.

I could have taken it again. But I’d discovered something else during that term. I hated journalism.

I wanted to write creatively, free as a bird, with no strings attached, no rules, no horrid grammar police breathing down my neck. Yes, I was a Bohemian artist, thank you very much.

My dream-career was not helped by the fact that I stunk at Russian, which, after failing to enter the coveted J School, seemed kind of like a waste of time anyway.

“I’m not competitive enough to be a journalist,” I told people when they asked me why I’d switched majors from Journalism to English.

Which possibly was true. But the real truth was that English was a heck of a lot easier.

I’ve learned a thing or two since then. One thing is that a major which actually provides a job when you graduate is a nice thing. Another is that forcing oneself to do something difficult in order to reach a goal is actually a good thing – and maybe, just maybe, majoring in English was a cop out. I tell people it’s a good thing I married an engineer ‘cause otherwise I’d be the proverbial starving artist living in a drafty garret somewhere and probably suffering from Consumption. Or at least bed bugs.

Mostly what I’ve learned, though, is that I don’t actually hate journalism. Especially when I’m filling in and the expectations upon me don’t include knowing when to say, “He said” or, “He says”. I have frequently heard writers thank their editors…now I totally understand why.

Over the past month I have learned more about insulation than I ever hoped to know. I have learned that not everyone will return a phone call, and not everyone wants attention brought to themselves or their situation. I have also learned that people are eager to thank others in print – which is lovely – and that they’re eager to share their story if it’s something they think others will benefit from. I have smiled during interviews, and shuddered (to myself) and marveled at the human spirit.

I have learned one other thing. I have learned that just as I tend to talk too much, I tend to write too much. There is beauty in brevity.

I’m still working on that one.

6 Responses

  1. Well, Gretchen, I just learned something new about you today. I did not know that you had planned on majoring in journalism. And I find it difficult to believe that you would not do well in a grammar class when you went on to major in English. That’s pretty contradictory.

    I think you’ve found your niche in writing because you’re darned good at it.

  2. Thanks, Audrey – I may have finally come into my own! I think that my problem with that grammar class was that it was so technical – it took the joy out of writing and made it stressful. I think I truly am a bit Bohemian in my approach to writing and all the rules and regulations were horrid. I have never liked or known the technicalities of grammar – I just use it properly and don’t care what it’s called! Taking apart sentences to name all the different parts just seemed – still seems! – sacreligious! But as an English major I just had to read and write – all of the technical stuff was left behind!

    1. You just wanted to get on with the writing. I get it now. I loved taking sentences apart, knowing the definitions of verbs and adverbs, etc. It helped that I had a terrific middle school English teacher, Mrs. Sales.

      I also loved foreign language and wanted to major in that initially. But I saw no employable practical use for the German I studied in high school. So I opted for journalism, which I’ve always loved.

      I think those genes were passed along to my second daughter, who is now a Spanish medical interpreter. She also served as co-editor of the Faribault High School newspaper and was on the staff of the newspaper at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.

      Someday, dear Gretchen, your book will be published. I am positive.

  3. Well, if not that book, then hopefully this next one! I am ever the optimist.

    I had to laugh as I read this because as much as I disliked grammar, I also disliked foreign languages! Not just the Russian – which I dropped second term – but the German I fall back upon, and the French I took in High School. I’m horrible at foreign languages. I sure hope that my children will be better. Colin enjoys the German he’s learning from all his travels there. He’s better than I am, I think!

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