May has just been an especially hectic and exhausting month for me. Mostly that's been about work, which is more or less a good thing. Additionally, when I have had leisure time, I've been concentrating a lot of that on a hobby that I've been on the fringes of all my life but lately have decided to get more involved in. (You can find out what that is by seeing the other blog on my profile.)
Anyway, I've been half-writing lots of posts in my head and I hope that at some point I'll be able to take some time to put some of them down here, or maybe even some other ones that I haven't even thought of yet.
So, bottom line, I will be back, but I'm not exactly sure how soon... Until then, have a happy late spring day, everyone.
I meant to add:
A few weeks back I wrote about engaging in a spiritual discipline and got several helpful and generous responses, for which I thank everyone who commented.
I have, since then, dipped a toe in those waters. Every morning I am trying to take time to simply read a bit from various sources (currently I'm re-reading Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art; I also plan reading from Thich Nhat Hanh and from Forrest Church among others in the future), spend some quiet time reflecting and summoning my highest, best self, and as the mood suits, either listening to music that I find inspirational, reading an appropriate prayer or meditation, or both.
For now I'm keeping this practice deliberately unstructured, except to say that I block off my first 30 minutes of my work time each day for it.
And when I do engage in it--which I admit I do not every day--I do find myself more centered and satisfied and ready for the day.
I don't write much about my work here, and don't plan to regularly. So this is an exception. It's an experiment, an exercise.
Mostly I'm a freelance writer and editor, but I also fill in, irregularly, for a small community daily newspaper on the copy desk. That means reading and editing stories, writing headlines, and laying them out on pages for publication.
Usually I'm responsible for local news pages. Stories are assigned to certain pages, so all I have to do is read them closely for accuracy, grammar, spelling and so on, and then write the heads and place the stories, designing the page myself. Typically the stories do not need to be cut, and in fact if they need to be cut a lot they either don't run or run somewhere else where they can fit.
But sometimes I'm the wire editor. That means much more work: I have to look over everything from AP in the last 12-24 hours, consider the wire pages actually available to me (anywhere from 1 or 2 to 4 or 5), choose what to run and how long to run it, and where to place it. Most wire stories get mercilessly hacked into a shadow of their former selves in this process.
This assignment is like trying to drink from a fire hydrant -- a much more demanding assignment than the local pages are.
So tonight, just for the heck of it, I thought I'd live-blog the wire editing process. This may end up being a total failure, and if it is I don't guarantee that this post won't just wind up completely down the memory hole. But what the heck. I'm giving it a try.
First task: take a look at the wire advisory for National/International, Wisconsin and Illinois, as well as McClatchy/Tribune wire. From that I'll construct a "budget" --meaning a list of possible stories to use -- for the 4 pm news meeting. I'll recommend certain ones for Page 1. Often, no wire stories end up on Page 1 of this paper, which strives to focus on local news first and foremost.
Budget constructed. I'm recommending a few more stories than usual. Could easily expect none will get chosen for Page 1 -- depends on how much local there is.
Here's what I'm highlighting as Page 1 potential:
~Analysis of the Wall St. frenzy last week
~AP looks at Obama response to oil spill and knocks down the Katrina comparisons
~Examination of factors in upcoming Supreme Court pick
~Study finds suburbs are seeing more poor, minority and elderly as educated, younger whites move to cities.
~Feature on a mom of a severely injured Iraq vet
~Oil spill reminds us era of 'easy oil' is over
~Finance overhaul bill won't fix credit agencies
~Another story on the change in metro demographics
~As the Pill turns 50, family planning too costly for many (that's a different kind of Mother's day angle!)
There are a lot more good stories, but none that I think will even pass muster for P. 1 here, so I'm not going to bother with them at the news meeting.
I have a total of 4 pages to fill. In all likelihood, one will be a "Region" page with Wisconsin and Illinois news. I'll probably make one mostly/all World and one mostly/all Nation. The best will go on the first page of the 4, where there's the most display space.
That lead page (which is actually inside the section where it resides) also has two sets of briefs -- a column down the left and 4 across the top.
I tend to try to sort stories very quickly as to whether I'll brief them or treat them bigger.
One of the things I alaways do is list all stories that I might run and immediately try to sort into pages. Since that's a paper list, I'll do it here.***SEE UPDATE BELOW The one-or-two-word identifiers for each story is all I use, and that's all I have time for here. For those playing along at home, you'll just have to figure it out.
Meeting hasn't started yet. When it does, I'll break this off.
Page B6-Region: room for 3 stories, or else 2 and a list of briefs
~Ill. budget -- lede? (right now it's just a short, but AP promises 'will be updated.' better have a backup in case they lie.)
There's nothing else of substance on the Wisconsin/Illinois wires. But a lot of shorts that can help build a briefs column. So 2 stories -- one of them very short, also -- and briefs it is.
Since I don't have the full Ill. budget story yet, I'll build the briefs column.
Meeting over. Sure enough, no wire to Page 1.
But there's a change in plans. B6 won't be region; not enough interest in the Ill. budget story to run it long. Instead it will be a brief elsewhere in the section -- either lead page or the nation page.
Reason: There's a lot of big analysis pieces and we have space to run them at some greater length.
I'm going to put the demographics survey story on B6.
I've found, read, edited, headlined and placed the story, with an AP graphic going with it. Had to cut about 1/3 of it (rough guess; could have been as much as 1/2). Needed to make sure a graf about recommendations (this was an account of a Brookings report coming out Sunday) got in, so I had to tighten here and there as well as cut whole sections. Oh, and I also had to put in some subheads (those are big here).
And that page is done.
When I went hunting for the story I also grabbed all the high priority stories in the domestic wire at the time. Next: check to see if there are more there.
My domestic list is updated. Next, check for World stories
Reading the International wire, more drug-cartel violence in Mexico. These tend to come in the form of briefs ("3 beheaded...") that may get expended ((those for consumption mostly in the Southwest, I suppose).
6:01 PM ***UPDATE TO 3:53 PM entry: It's not practical for me to list EVERY story I'm considering. Instead I'll just list the ones that are at least candidates for display spots on the relevant pages.
Next up: Pick the stories for the lead wire page. What's the best of the best here?
Standard page design calls for a story with a sizeable photo in the center of the page. So I want to pick that, and the lede story.
Page lede candidates:
~Taliban threaten new offensive
~Look ahead to Karzai trip
~Oil Spill update
Eliminate Taliban, Karzai. So it's Oil vs. Times Square
Meh on the Times Square story. Leading with Oil. There's art with it (that's newspaper speak for photos.) But it won't be the lead art on the page. Still check the art to see if I want to use it.
Some amazing pix of oil in water, but this is a black and white page, so they won't come through well. Best pictures to go with this story are of a protest today in NOLA against off shore drilling or of people cleaning beaches.
I'm liking the choice I made as I read the main AP news story on latest in the oil leak. There are a bunch of other stories; probably can't use them all. I'll try to use one, so I'll have to make up my mind which.
Ooh. There's a graphic with this story. Check to see if I want to use it.
Nah. It's a forecast of where the oil will be Monday. Reasonable, but speculative, especially given my limited space.
The oil story and a photo are placed. Now to decide if I'll run another story with it, or put that on another page with a "refer" line.
Let's see what else I want to get on this page.
Candidates for main art story:
~Iceland volcano update
~Feature about mom of a severely injured Iraqi soldier. I'd have to cut it a lot.
~Staten Island ferry accident.
Scratch volcano. Just pix of people waiting for planes.
Decision: Move mom into the next page (which can use the picture in color instead of B&W). The story won't have to cut as much, too.
Put the ferry crash picture on the first page with just a newsy cutline.
Second thoughts. Ferry pix aren't that great. Anything better, photo wise?
Answer: Not really. Solution: Use two pictures in a "package." One of injured person, one close-up of the ferry damage.
Gotta move now.
Built and placed the ferry package. Works out. I basically have room for one story to its right, under the oil spill story. I think I'm going to use one of the other oil stories there. Then there's room for a story across the bottom. Not sure yet what will go there.
Turning to the next page now, where I'm putting the Iraq soldier's mom story.
I just looked again at what I recommended for page 1 before. Some of those might not even make it in the paper at all now.
Working on the military mom story. I've got to fit a headline for it into one column. It's a struggle. The story is an amazing, moving one. It's well told. I don't want to punch the wrong, maudlin buttons in writing the headline. And I need short words.
The story is edited and fit into the spot I've placed it. Next up is picking another story to fill the other hole on the page.
There's a story about the Taliban in Afghanistan, planning to take advantage of Karzai's absence visiting the US. I'll use that -- relates to the general topic of US war in mideast.
One thing about this particular job: It really forces me to make quick decisions, gut decisions, and not look back on them.
OK, that page is finished, proofed and ready for the printer.
Next: Decide the rest of the lead page, so that I know what's left for the last page. The last page will still be a World news page, I'm pretty sure.
That World page is 3 columns wide. So I'll make one column briefs and then have two columns for longer stories (as in 300 words). I think there will be room for 2 or 3.
I'm looking over the possible sidebars I might use for the Oil story, and I'm inclined to go with the one that knocks down the comparisons between Obama and the oil leak and Bush and Katrina. It's a tough call. Whatever I run will have to be cut to like 15% of its original length. One's an AP investigation on the failures of such valves in the past. The other from McClatchy (i'm guessing Miami Herald, but I don't know for sure) on the less than aggressive safety measures of these deep drilling cos. If we were a coastal community they would be more relevant to readers. I think, though, the this isn't Obama's Katrina story has more national significance.
I hate cutting the sidebar that much, but I don't see other options. Meanwhile, I've done a closer edit on the main story to fit the space. There are new versions. I'll check them now to see if they change it significantly. Then I'll nail down my choice for the other story on this page, and move to the World page.
Rethinking my decision. The piece is a narrative -- it really can't be cut as much as I'd have to. I'll take a quick look at the other options, and then if I don't think they'll work, drop the idea of a sidebar entirely.
I got it. There's a Mc/T story on 'the end of easy oil.' That should work.
OK third story.
~PLO agrees to mideast talks?
~Gates-Pentagon war on waste?
~Unfixed internet glitch?
~Market frenzy analysis?
#1 can go on World. #2 can be a brief. #3 interesting but is it urgent now?
I'll go w/ the Market frenzy.
Yikes, I have blood on my hands... :-)
OK, big stories on lead page are done. Now the world page. That has to go quickly. I basically have an hour left for everything. Entire world page (2 stories plus briefs) plus the two sets of briefs on lead page.
World lead story candidates:
~PLO/Israel? LA Times story says "both sides express doubts". So maybe not taht one. Or relegate it to second rank.
~British elections folo? Things are still in flux. Make that a brief I think.
~Volcano flight delays. Go w/ that for the top, PLO for the other one. Then some briefs.
OK, briefs for World still to come. But the page 1 editor needs lottery numbers. That's my job.
Last stretch. World Page briefs
1) British elections
2) Russian mine explosion
room for one more?
Cancel that. Mine explosion leads. And the Brit elections story is a thumbsucker. Not crucial no and not cuttable to a brief,
Need to pick 4 top briefs (I'll explain this later)
For the other briefs:
~War on Waste
~Seattle police beating
~Times Square follow up
Might be room for one more. I'll stop there for now.
There was no room for a 5th side brief.
About the top briefs: these are four very short stories arrayed across the top of the lead nation/world page. I generally try to put "grabbers" there -- and like everything else, just go by the Potter Stewart theory: "I know it when I see it."
And so, it's done. Often when I do this job, I like to look at both the nearby metro paper and the paper in the next town over (about the same size as the one I work for) to see how my news judgment does or doesn't compare. Of course, both of them are set up differently and tend to make more room for the wire stories that I'm usually having to cram into a very lmited space.
Anyhow, I hope it's been interesting.
(Edited to add): Several stories didn't make it in at all: The Illnois budget, the Supreme Court, the 'Obama's Katrina' knockdown. Others not in the way I expected. But again, it was a matter of following my instincts in the moment.
Something I've never done is embrace, and stick with, a daily spiritual practice or discipline. (I've also never stuck with a long-term exercise program. There might be a connection here.)
On the one hand, I find myself admiring people who adopt such a practice, and who, to me, seem very centered and spiritually mature. On the other, I find myself chafing at making anything a "requirement" or an "obligation" in this way -- and then berate myself for seeming shallow or self-centered.
Several years ago I spent some time doing daily "morning pages" as prescribed in the book The Artist's Way, but didn't stick with that for very long, either.
These days I've been feeling a desire to embrace some kind of daily discipline or practice to help focus and center myself for the day. But I draw back -- for the aforementioned reasons, and because I don't want it to be just another personal fad.
So why am I posting this in this semi-public space? More than with some other blog posts, I'm interested in (on-topic) feedback and reflections from others for whom this topic resonates. If this sparks any thoughts, or you have any related wisdom from your own experience to share, I'd be interested in hearing it.