Strategies & Tactics

An Ongoing Reading and Writing Journey

February 1, 2018

[warner brothers]
[warner brothers]

While assembling this annual storytelling issue, I started thinking about the people in my life who helped shape my career as a writer and editor.

My parents were both voracious readers. My mother is a librarian, and is always in progress on a book. My father couldn’t pass by a used bookstore without stopping in for a few short hours. (The stacks next to his bed were proof of this.)

So it always seemed natural to be reading — a lot. I knocked out The Hardy Boys series quickly at a young age. I waded into pop culture as a 10 year old with the novel “Jaws,” much to the horror of my English teacher, Sister Eileen, who made me remove the cover. She suggested “Moby Dick,” which I still haven’t finished.

In high school, the editing mechanics came together. Mrs. Brandewie, the adviser of our paper, The Cavalier Crier, highlighted word repeats in articles. Writing recaps of basketball games was challenging. I could use the word “rebounds” just once. So players on the team ended up grabbing “six boards” or “eight caroms,” much to the confusion of readers. (During Ethics Month, perhaps I’ll discuss the time that I wrote a recap of a game that I played in!)

While attending The Ohio State University, our faculty adviser — let’s call him Bill — on the school paper, The Lantern, scared many of us. He usually responded to our questions with a blank stare. This practice made for especially short office visits.

What Bill lacked in people skills, though, he made up for as an editor. He wrote blistering critiques of the daily. His favorite remark was an UGH written in red ink. To be honest, the use of UGH in all-caps has served me well through the years.

As brutal as the edits seemed, he wanted us to do and be our best. And the evaluations were instructive. We all learned from making these mistakes, like when we misstated the population of India by 1 billion people.

For a more refined role model, several of us aspiring journalists passed around a well-worn video of the 1976 classic “All the President’s Men,” in which Jason Robards received an Oscar for his portrayal of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee during the Watergate investigation. As The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane wrote of that performance: “[Robards] showed a generation of men how to park their feet on a table.” And there we were in The Lantern newsroom with our feet on the desk writing UGH on copy.

Moving forward, I’m still learning every day. Language evolves. Rules change (especially with the AP Stylebook, which is constantly updated).

In the pages ahead, our contributors discuss a variety of writing-related subjects, from addressing common corporate storytelling mistakes to creating brand connections with audiences. I hope that you find some tips and wisdom in these articles to help you continue your lifelong writing journey.

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is PRSA's publications director. He joined PRSA in 1994.

Comments

Julie says:

Thank you, John, for this great column and tribute to writing and reading. My parents took me to see All the President's Men at an age too young to understand the political drama, but I was enamored by the cluttered, humming newsroom with desks piled high with books. Later, in j-school at Syracuse, when I misspelled Gaddafi's name in one of my assignments, the image of "Not even close!" marked in heavy red marker at the top of the page stays with me to this day. UGH.

Feb. 17, 2018

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