"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The red squiggly line

What makes a journalist?
How about “the red squiggly line” and an attitude?
When Laura Hoffert spoke to Terry Clark’s reporting class at UCO last semester, the co-editor of The Vista spent the hour telling students about her passion for print journalism, punctuated with humor and aphorisms.
“I’m dyslexic and the red squiggly line on the computer shows when I’ve misspelled a word,” she said, of turning to journalism after praise for her father and sister’s talents in more technical fields. Grilled by Clark with questions about journalism, she spoke without notes, sitting at a table in the front of a room like an editor running a story conference.
“I get bored easily,” Hoffert said, brushing her red hair away from her face as she talked about being able to interview many different people.
“I see stories—we’re never out of a story. If there’s a hay parade, the story is about the people behind it. There are a lot of hay stories out there,” she said.
Asked about what qualities a journalist should have, Hoffert said journalists need to know how to talk to people.
“It all hinges on your credibility,” she said. “When you’re interviewing people, for a lot of them, this is their only shot to have their name in print. You’re taking a part of their lives, so you’ve got to get it right.”
Speaking of the crisis in print and broadcast journalism, Hoffert blamed the media.
“People are fed up with opinion in the news. Fox and CNN don’t have a news problem. It’s an entertainment problem, telling people it’s news.”
“Our paper is better than Fox news,” she said matter-of-factly.
She said working for The Vista was a privilege.
“It’s not the Laura Hoffert story hour. It’s the students’ paper, and they deserve the news. The Vista is an opportunity to matter, to have input on campus.”
She covered several qualifications for working on the paper, things not covered in textbooks:
“You can’t take yourself too seriously in journalism. You’ll go nuts.”
“You have to have a low threshold for lies. Sometimes that’s not nice. You hear something and you say ‘This is BS because….' ”
“You have to be imperfect to be a journalist.”
“The people I work with are my best friends. But if you can’t fight with your best friends, it won’t work.”
“If you get your feelings hurt too easily, then get out.”
“Working for The Vista, you get a backbone.”
She also had advice for students as writers.
“Writing a story is like doing a puzzle. You may not use all the pieces.
“People won’t read it if it’s not well crafted.
“Journalism is curiosity and knowledge mixed together.”
Hoffert has a quick wit and is able to characterize people almost immediately, painting pictures with words. She spoke of art students coming into The Vista to apply as cartoonists.
“They look tortured, hair in their eyes, wearing black trench coasts. They seem to float and come up behind you, speaking in whispers.”
Hoffert will graduate in May, 2010. She is co-editor with Nelson Solomon and will be The Vista editor in spring semester.
She was part of a skeleton crew that put out eight issues of The Vista this summer when Clark was interim adviser. She pokes good natured, irreverent fun at everybody in the newsroom, including the adviser. But she’s all business when it comes to putting out The Vista. She toured the Newseum in Washington, D.C. this summer and is so inspired she wants the Vista staff to take a field trip there.
When she spoke to the class, trying to recruit students--“We need help”-- Clark was busy scribbling notes on two sides of a piece of paper, thinking, “This is terrific and worth a story. The depressed world of journalism needs to hear her and her attitude.”
Then he lost the notes, and Hoffert has hounded him about it since. Maybe he was afraid of writing it because even after he’s spell checked it (no red squiggly lines), and edited it, he’s afraid Vista eagle-eyed copy editor Caleb McWilliams will find something wrong with it. But Clark found the notes and kept postponing writing it.
That explains her poem on Facebook yesterday, that finally got the job done:

"For and hour she spoke alone,
That was over two months ago...
And now she has to sit and wait.......
Clark's story is nearly 8 weeks late!
She checks the blog and everyday....
He's got absolutely nothing to say!
Perhaps it's the mouthiness or the red hair?
But waiting 8 weeks seems to not be fair!
What else could Clark do with his time?
Ah, yes former chairs love their wine...

Well, it was almost not obscene."

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