Last week I was a guest speaker in a high school journalism class. Beginning and advanced journalism students in all levels of high school filled the jam, jam packed room (because I don’t wear my glasses when I make presentations [that way the audience is just a giant blur, and much less nerve-wracking], I didn’t even notice there were half-a-dozen students sitting around the meeting table on the far side of the classroom until my presentation was nearly over!).
I’ve spoken to high school groups before, mostly for Career Day—but never have I had such an attentive and articulate audience. The editor-in-chief came up to say hi before I began my talk, and asked me a bit about the newspaper I edit. I thought we were just chatting, but then she introduced me to the class and threw in some of the snippets she’d picked up from me. (Now that’s an interviewer!)
I started out the way I usually do, explaining that even though I’d always planned on an impressive literary career, I never intended to write nonfiction (being, in my younger years, not even a willing reader of nonfiction). I graduated from college having done minimal career planning, and decided to get into substitute teaching while I scrambled for some job options. That’s when my mom saw the ad in the tiny newspaper that had been showing up in our mailbox.
It was a free publication that a local woman had started in order to spread the good news about our beleaguered local school district. She couldn’t offer me any pay, but she was willing to give me a chance. And I was pleased at the prospect of (at last) seeing my byline.
Turned out that I got a real thrill out of interviewing people (a reaction beyond unexpected, since I was quite shy), and writing the story was a cinch, since I was so accomplished at pulling quotes from literary works to write research papers. And that no-pay gig gave me clips that got me consistent freelance work from two other local publications; I became the lone writer at one after my editor was promoted; and the other is the publication I now edit.
After this brief background, I moved into some of my better writing and editing tales—like the editor who made me cry, and the writer who refused to interview any sources (for her first draft AND for the re-write).
And then it was on to the Q&A. That’s always the stickiest part of a student presentation—no one wants to be the first one to ask a question. (Sometimes no one wants to be the second, either.) But the editor-in-chief came to my rescue, and then the ball was rolling. And the questions were great.
“How do you pitch to a magazine?”
“How do you get started as an editor?”
“How much do publications pay?”
These are students who are very much aware of the challenges facing newspapers today, and of the changes they’re seeing in the magazines they enjoy reading. And yet they’re invested in the field, invested in the work, and hopeful that they can find a future in journalism.
It was a welcome respite from some of the eye-rolling and downright depressing news I get in the myriad newsletters I receive!