Today we welcome Greta Sharp, a talented writer/journalist (yes, Virginia, there is a difference) that lives in Mobile. Greta writes for newspapers, business publications, and trade journals. She and her husband, an accounting professor at Spring Hill College, coauthored the book Antebellum Myths and Folklore in 2009. Greta gives us some idea of the differences in writing for a newspaper.
When I began writing for the newspaper in 2004, it was my first foray into real (and by real, I mean paid) journalism. The lessons I learned cutting my teeth on that section, first called Suburban, then Neighbors and finally Mobile-Press, have helped me with every writing assignment I’ve worked on since.
Writing for a newspaper is funny. They talk about column inches. I just hit ‘word count.’ The paper has a constant appetite for news. I learned deadlines are often concrete. It’s sometimes a lightning-speed turn-around. If you can compose on the computer, you’ll be much better off in the long run.
Size matters, or never use a big word when a little word will do. Yes, we’ve all heard newspapers are written at a third grade reading level. The bottom line is you are writing for the general public, providing news for the masses. Don’t use the term ‘incendiary event’ when ‘fire’ works just as well. Use simple and understandable terms.
Lead on, McDuff. People are much more likely to read your article if the lead is interesting. Use action words, make people laugh or even use a cliché. (It’s a cliché for a reason, after all.)
Double, triple and quadruple check. When you are putting your words out there for the whole world to see, make sure they are correct. Confirm dates, times, prices and phone numbers. Pay special attention to names…Kelly or Kelley? Sharpe or Sharp? You’ll rarely be congratulated for getting something right, but you’ll always hear about it if it’s wrong.
Info MIA. Missing information is part of the story. If you’re writing about an event where the location will only be revealed to ticket holders, that information is part of the story. Don’t leave it out just because you don’t know or can’t share the information. Sometimes no news is news.
Damn me with faint praise. Don’t expect your editor to compliment you on your story. Your job is to write good material. The editor’s job is to polish it, not plump up your ego. If you get another assignment, that’s the indication she likes your work.
Sadly, I report that Greta is one of the very talented writers the slowly disappearing Press Register laid off during their massive downsizing. Mobile will suffer withdrawal pains for a long time to come. Greta has been a major adjunct to local information: not just getting news out but creatively getting local news out for all the family members, school friends, church friends, community organizations, business colleagues, etc. etc. etc. to see. She has been a strong supporter of writing and reading activities for children in the community. If the first few weeks of the newly minted Press Register are an indication of the future for news in our area, how dismal for the reading public.
Greta, there is a huge chunk of friendly Mobile absent in the Sunday morning paper. You are missed.