By Tim Smith
I read a lot every day, usually news sites and magazines. I don’t read books as much as I should or would like to, for a good reason. I’m the Managing Editor of a weekly newspaper that highlights arts and entertainment in the Dayton, Ohio area. I spend my days reading and editing what my writers submit for publication, as well as writing the occasional feature or short piece.
Suffice to say, when I get home at night, I’m not in the right frame of mind to read a book, or, even worse, write one of my own. That task is now relegated to weekends.
I’ve learned a lot about different styles by doing this job. I’ve also figured out which stories will require more of my time when I see the name attached to them. I try not to complain about the little pet peeves that drive all of us crazy when we read someone else’s work, realizing that everyone approaches this job in their own way. We follow the AP style guide but having been an author and freelancer for many years, I believe in letting people write in their own voice.
As I mentioned, sometimes I step in to write a feature, usually when someone fails to deliver on an assignment. I have a problem with that, because deadlines have always been sacred to me. If I know I’m going to have trouble meeting one, or an interview subject doesn’t cooperate, I communicate with the editor so they can intervene or make other plans. Is this too much for me to ask now that I’m sitting in the hot seat? I don’t think so.
A few months ago, my willingness to take on this extra work got me in trouble with my publisher. We run a debate forum as a weekly feature. This is the publisher’s pride and joy, and he could basically care less about the other things we publish as long as the debate is good. One week, one of the debate writers was unable to deliver his side due to a family emergency. This happened two days before publication. Rather than scramble for another writer or use an evergreen in its place, I chose to write his argument under an assumed name.
The publisher came into my office on upload day with a proof copy of the debate, asking me who in the hell T. J. Savage was, and when did we hire someone by that name? I explained that Thomas J. Savage was a well-known Doctor in Xenia, Ohio in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and he had written a few books of poetry. I also mentioned that he was my great-grandfather. My boss didn’t think this was funny and lectured me on credibility. Whatever. I think he was just pissed because he didn’t think of it first.
One book I did read recently was for the purpose of adding to our list of evergreens, those stories all publications keep in reserve that aren’t time-sensitive and can be used whenever needed. It was a history of Dayton’s “lost heritage” written by a local college professor and was full of interesting facts and photos. Rather than making it an actual review, I contacted the author for an interview and wrote it as a profile.
Sometimes, these stories I’m basically forced to write turn into pleasant experiences. Not long ago I wrote one about our local public access television station to celebrate their 40th anniversary in broadcasting. What I thought would be a yawn was actually very interesting. I got so much good material from the station manager and some on-air personalities that it became a cover story instead of a one-page feature. So much for having pre-conceived notions.