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Wisdom for an Aspiring Journalist

< by Jill >

In the summer of 2007, I accepted an intern position at a local newspaper. After a quick tour of the office, I met with my boss, the Features editor.

He characterized the Features section like this: It’s a grab bag.

He explained my role like this: Fill the grab bag.

He defined success like this: Don’t put crap in the grab bag.

In his most prosaic moment, he said, “You need to pitch six stories a week and write the two that I approve.”

I set to work immediately. During my first pitch meeting, he approved one idea: a spotlight on the local old-folks home. After conducting dozens of interviews with residents and caretakers, I composed the article and sent it to the copy desk. The morning it was published, I floated through the office like it was Paris, squeezing bundles of newspapers in lieu of baguettes.

At my desk, I discovered my first bit of feedback from my editor.

YOU PUT CRAP IN THE GRAB BAG. -T

I spent the next hour fighting off tears while composing an article on patty-pan squash, the unsung hero of your local farmers’ market. Although this article elicited a marginally better response, it took several more pitch meetings and published works before I hit a groove. Finally, after completing an investigative report on the fate of a rescued pit bull, I won his approval.

GOOD. -T

T taught me a lesson that guides my every keystroke. And it’s especially relevant in the internet age, for writers of every stripe:

Don’t put crap in the grab bag.

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