Getting it right, making it sing

by: ,

Despite what some might think, it isn't easy pulling a newspaper together every week. And while it doesn't exactly take a village, it does demand pretty much every ounce of gray matter I can muster to get the job done.

I know, I know. Here at the News-Times we make it look positively Merlin-esque, as if we could toss around some fairy dust, wave a golden wand and the stories and photos and headlines and captions would just fall into place like, well, magic.

They don't. I'm here to tell you that if it weren't for John and Zack and Mateusz and Matt and Chase and Maureen and Olivia and Bethanye and Sheila and Janet and Whitney, there wouldn't be a snowball's chance of this news product getting out the door before Christ comes back.

We're also indebted to our readers, the ones who care enough to keep their ears to the ground and then pick up the phone or stop by to let us know what they know about what's happening - or about to happen - in Forest Grove, Cornelius, Banks and Gaston.

People often ask me where we reporter types get the ideas for our stories, and I tell them they come from everywhere, including the kinds of gossipy (but honest) over-the-fence exchanges made popular on 1970s sitcoms. Hey - if it's good enough for Archie Bunker, then it works for me.

Sometimes the question is framed in a wow-I'm-amazed-at-your-wellspring-of-creativity-and-talent sort of way. Other times my spider sense tells me the person is making fun of what they've read in the paper, or worse, doing some kind of slick undercover intel - getting the skinny on who's about to be pink-slipped at City Hall, for instance.

(If that's what you're after, by the way, I'm not the one you want to talk to. I can write the gritty expose as well as the next guy or gal, but my heart just isn't in it. I learned a long time ago that I'm no Geraldo Rivera. I'm more like Anna Quindlen, with a little Goldie Hawn thrown in.)

After more than two decades as a journalist in Newberg, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Tualatin, Tigard, Sherwood, Beaverton, and now, Forest Grove - including a fairly lengthy hiatus when I was busy raising my children - I can declare my allegiance to the ideal we trumpet on the front page of this paper every week: we want to make a difference in the communities we serve.

We go to the meetings, attend the ball games, meet the movers and shakers and spend hours hanging out with regular folks because it's our goal to put out a paper that reflects the tone and character of the towns we cover.

Some of us arrive at the office in the wee hours of the morning and stay until late at night. I'm writing this at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday, for instance, three hours after we put our June 28 issue to bed.

Like the industrious gremlins in 'The Elves and the Shoemaker,' we're strangely nocturnal creatures who keep notebooks by our beds, just in case the urge to write the Great American Novel interrupts our fitful slumber. Or, more likely, we told our boss we'd knock out a story about water fees rising in Washington County for page 10.

It can get a tad obsessive the way we - OK, make that 'I' - fool with a headline font, turn a photo on a 10 percent tilt or take a full 15 minutes to glean a couple extra details off Wikipedia to give a story more color.

In case you're wondering, I don't get anything out of that personally. There's no pay raise involved in going above and beyond the call of a reporter's duty. Much of the time most of us simply worry quite a lot about getting it right.

Some days I get tired and once in a while I get a bit cynical. I guess I've developed a little bit of both over the long haul, after researching and writing and editing so many stories, tweaking leads and trying, desperately sometimes, to make my words sing.

I have to admit that it would be a whole lot less messy if I didn't care so darned much, but I do. I'd love it if every story I wrote was a home run, but I'll settle for three major things. What I write for the paper has to be true. It needs to be relevant. And it absolutely must be interesting.

Someone once said it's a sin to bore a child. I think it's a cardinal offense to turn off a reader with less than my best.

In her book 'Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,' Anne Lamott, who I want to be when I grow up, if I ever do, observed that 'writers write.' Not just some days, and not only when the spirit moves them.

They look around them, as all good journalists do. They fill up on what's out there. Then, as a debt of gratitude for life and curiosity and intellect, they put it down on paper.