When The Terrace Standard took me on as a columnist 29 years ago editor Rod Link gave me two guidelines — a length of 400 words, and freedom to select my topics. As the years went by, we forged a comfortable working bond, albeit at arm’s length.
One reader was amazed to learn I only saw Rod maybe every few months, usually at Safeway. He’d be picking up his lunch as I was shopping. I visited him in his office only once, this past April.
In the early years, I typed my copy on a Royal manual, retyping successive drafts from beginning to end unless I could cut out a paragraph or sentence and glue stick it in a more appropriate place before retyping.
Wednesday mornings at 8 a.m. my husband delivered my typed copy to the newspaper office on his way to work.
In 2006 the newspaper upgraded to computers and gave me an outdated model.
Three months later I bought my first Mac and signed up for Internet service. No longer did my husband have to deliver my copy and my deadlines moved from Monday nights to Tuesday midnights. Any omitted or out-of-place sentences became my fault, not that of the typist who transferred my copy to computer for printing.
Rod began work 6 a.m. or earlier. By 7:10 a.m. if my copy hadn’t arrived he would email: “Where’s your column? Do you need help?”
Usually I was waiting for an email reply to a research query. I would assure him I’d have my column in by 10 a.m., with or without the final detail.
One morning he didn’t receive my email. I sent it again. He didn’t receive that one either. By the third try I had the feeling he doubted my word, like someone who claims to have sent the cheque but didn’t. We tried different addresses but still emails with my copy didn’t go through. In desperation I offered to jump in my truck and deliver a printed version to him. About then the newspaper located my emails stacked in a spam account.
Column by column I learned a few rules about journalism.
Twice he rejected a column.
One concerned a cookie controversy at a school. I hadn’t yet taken to conducting my own interviews; I based my column on opinions expressed in many letters-to-the-editor. But some key ingredients were missing, Rod said my column was half-baked; the mother had been battered more than enough already, no way would he let me pound her further.
In response to one column a striking union threatened to sue. The newspaper’s lawyer drafted a letter of apology I had to sign if I wanted to continue as a columnist. I signed.
Occasionally he’s doubted my facts, asked for my source so he could verify them for himself.
Primarily my research is drawn from reputable news outlets such as CBC, Vancouver Sun, The New York Times, or by emailing a local source like the RCMP, conservation officers, or a government office. Emails ensure accurate quotes and if doubted, I can forward the email or a website link to let the editor see where my facts came from.
Throughout, Rod helped me shape my columns, sometimes going so far as to streamline a paragraph that defied my ability to clearly and concisely get my point across. He cut words to fit space without losing meaning, deleted overlooked redundancies, and titled my pieces so well I looked forward to learning what I had been trying to say.
Journalism grads won’t find a better editor with which to work.