Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Woof! He Explained

The black dog has crept behind the house and fallen asleep, if I may borrow from Winston Churchill.

I mean I have been just a little depressed the last several weeks, and I am now discovering the damage was entirely self-inflicted. I had delayed grading the final exams and the final stories from my basic reporting class because the grades aren't due until January third, and I was so damn sure that these stories would be miserable, not in the essential sense of expressing the students' inherent mediocrity, for they are not that, but existentially mediocre by which I mean I was pretty certain I had failed to find the students where they were and move them forward.

My bad. My bad. Excrement does not fall far from the sphincter, as the acorn does not fall far from the tree.

But I have started grading, and the finals are pretty good, and the final stories are pretty good, too. Particularly for the final story, for what I call the big story, some of them figured out what I wanted them to do: That is, they talked to more than three people; they picked a topic that someone might give a damn about and they created knots on the reader's head by prompting, coaxing and facilitating those who serve as the story's source to explain and explain and explain again why the reader should give a damn.

And be skeptical about what the sources have to say, I said. And ask why. And please tell me who told you what unless you saw it or the whole world knows it already. And please put a sentence at or very near the top of the story that explains what the story is all about.

It's quite a lot to learn in a beginning reporting class into which most of the students have more or less wandered because when you are in college occasionally you do have to be somewhere of a more or less educational nature more's the pity.

I think I was pretty much hysterical near the end of the semester, threatening them with mad copy editors who would pretty much slash their story in half without reading it. I am, in short, teaching them to write the kind of stories that I didn't much like writing when I was a reporter and was vain enough to think that if my nut graf -- so despicable a term but widely used and therefore useful -- wasn't postponed until after the jump and if I didn't have at least one big flourish of style per one-sentence paragraph I was shortchanging my talent and my many fans.

So I dare them to be dull.

And I whisper to some of them, "For a good time, meet me later in feature writing," where thank god the gloves come off and we let the dog howl.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And that is why teaching can be grand.