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Every writer needs stern editors
by Jake Highton
Oct 31, 2012 | 3744 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Today’s sermon is on editing, an oft-told tale but one that needs constant retelling. Namely: all writers need a demanding editor no matter how long they have been professionals.

I have been writing for 65 years, beginning with high school and college sports. Yet still today I see my columns in print and wish I had changed a word, rephrased a sentence or deleted a line.

What would a vigorous editor say of the following beginning of a recent campus newspaper story about the inauguration of President Johnson?

“This Friday will mark the continuation of a tradition the University of Nevada has upheld for decades. From the university’s first president, LeRoy D. Brown, in 1887, through Milton Glick in 2011, the University of Nevada, has always held high standards for its leaders, and its (sic) about to add one more to its repertoire.”

A stern editor would see that that “lead” is too jammed and repetitious, know that repertoire is the wrong word, the paragraph has unnecessary commas and contains a grammatical error.

But the biggest problem: it’s PR. It reads like — and probably was — a handout from the UNR communications department.

The editor of the campus paper, the Sagebrush, knows nothing about editing. Everything written is shoveled into the paper. But the Sagebrush is put out by students. You can’t hold them to tough editing standards.

The Reno Gazette-Journal has no such excuse. It ran this headline about the event: “UNR tradition endures at Johnson inauguration.”

This Johnson promised to “pursue a course rooted in the decency…that has characterized this institution.”

Fine words but PR words. Here‘s the harsh truth:

•The Regents, after months of squabbling, fired Max Milam without a hearing, causing a faculty uproar. Historian Jim Hulse called it one the worst episodes in UNR annals with “North versus South and an Agriculture dean who insisted on running his own fiefdom contrary to university policy.”

•President Minard Stout was autocratic. He fired five faculty “troublemakers,” two esteemed biology researchers and three high-caliber English professors.

•President Glick canned two campus stalwarts for daring to blow the whistle on UNR wrongdoings.

•President Joe Crowley, an insider, was anointed by Regent Bob Cashell despite better qualified applicants.

•President John Lilley left in disgrace, despised by faculty and staff.

•One Regent demanded that acting President Johnson be hired as president rather than any of the better qualified outsiders.

Journalism requires the five W’s: who, what, when, where and why. It should add a T for truth.

Grades, grades, grades

I often found teaching a trial in recent years because too many students think only of grades. Not ideas, not thoughts, not critical thinking, not insights — just grades.

Such an attitude renders education meaningless, undermining the whole point of a college degree.

One student earned a C in my media law class last spring because she never scored better than C+ in any test, term paper or book review. She never brought the text to class. She did, however, bring an iPad, punching away during class.

Nevertheless, she appealed, demanding a B. The journalism academic dean, Dr. David Ryfe, ruled for her — a gross injustice.

The decision angered me. But far more important was the realization that the class was wasted on her.

For receptive students, the class offered what critic Edmund Wilson called an “animated conversation, gaiety and an uninhibited exchange of ideas.”

Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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