I was given the opportunity to poison young minds this morning.
The first meeting of the newspaper class at Albuquerque High School met today and I came in to show them how it’s done. I brought along a colleague, Ali Patterson, a copy editor at the Albuquerque Journal, because it is important to show the neophytes that not all newspaper people are disheveled miscreants who mumble a lot and look like they haven’t slept in days. Ali calls the two extremes of journalistic types “type A” and “type B.” There doesn’t seem to be anyone in the middle between the organized A’s and everyone else.
I have spoken with a high school journalism class once before. It had six editors-in-chief. That doesn’t work. A newspaper has to have a mafia-style paramilitary command structure with a supreme commander at the top. Otherwise, nothing will get done. A newspaper is a machine and must run efficiently, even if some of us end up spinning in the gears.
I told the class to select a leader and warned the leader not to be a douche. It is important to get the job done but not to alienate the troops. I’ve had pompous, arrogant editors, and everyone in their employ will eventually undermine them. It’s apparently hard to have power and not abuse it.
A girl in the class rose at the end and identified herself as editor-in-chief. I have no idea if that had already been decided upon or if she was taking the mafia analogy too literally. She certainly seemed to have what it takes.
Ali and I mulled over a few more topics: design, lede writing, learning the devil Associated Press Style, the importance of getting facts right, and the joy of pissing off the powers-that-be.
Ali spoke about checking names, places and all the small things that can screw up an otherwise perfectly good newspaper. I told the kids about the demon readers who only live to find mistakes in newsprint. They’re out there, and they suck.
One kid asked, “What if I get in trouble for a story I write?” I told him to get his facts straight, be fair and tell the truth. They can, and will, get mad, but they can’t do anything about it.
I was a student journalist in college and it changed my life. When I was a kid I was a mark for bullies and mean people. Now they are my collective bitch. Journalism has been a godsend for me, has taught me how to use my words.
The paper was, and is, a place for word nerds to obtain glory they are otherwise denied. Support your local school paper.
We’re going back in a month or two to check out a few issues and offer some critique. I can’t wait.