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Crash Course in Writing: Eleven reasons to get paid while you learn
by Gloria Griepenstroh

For a beginning writer, writing courses can be instructive but unfortunately expensive. If you have the time to invest, there is an unusual writing course that will fit any pocketbook. Why? Because you are paid to take it.

Several years ago, I took a freelancing job as a newspaper stringer to build a folder of clips. After a year, a full time position became available and I was hired. My employers owned two weekly papers in neighboring counties and now I was writing for both.

Being new to the newspaper business, I knew nothing about the nuts and bolts of newspaper publishing. Before long, I realized I was doing much more than just writing. I was learning a wealth of basic knowledge needed to publish a paper. That’s the beauty of working for a small weekly or daily. Because of their small staff, you must learn many aspects of the business, not just reporting and writing articles.

The beneficial experience of the job ranks up there with many expensive writing courses. Listed below are eleven reasons to give working for a small paper a try.

1. You learn a variety of jobs, instead of just one, like the employees of larger papers.

2. Last minute changes or breaking stories keep you on your toes.

3. Close rapport with your editor can be compared to a one-on-one with a writing instructor. Learning the pluses and minuses of the business can save you time and money.

4. Editing and proofreading other staff’s work improves your own writing.

5. Being a reporter tunes you into several key elements of good writing -- accurate note taking, being flexible and picking up on the expressions or unspoken words of people.

6. Your typing speed can increase. Before each paper goes to press, enormous mounds of copy must be typeset, everything from fill material, court news, and obituaries to legal notices, headlines, and of course your articles.

7. You may learn a new computer program at no cost to you. I learned the PageMaker program, which is used by many newspapers and publications. The correct use of different fonts for text and headlines was an important resource, too.

8. Learning layout skills is always a plus for your bag of tricks. This know-how is learned only through practice. Learning how to make the copy fit the available space is essential, but making a news page attractive must also be mastered. This delicate balance takes planning and a keen eye, but most of all it takes practice, practice, practice. If you ever plan to write a newsletter, this is invaluable.

9. You learn valuable advertising, marketing and photography skills. My interviewing skills took a giant leap forward, as well.

10. Perks beyond a paycheck are part of the territory, too. A weekly byline and a multitude of clips and photo credits become a nice addition to your portfolio.

11. Don’t over look the contacts that are made in the newspaper business. A variety of businesses, government bodies, school administrators and celebrities will remember who you are. Each one makes a nice network for future freelance possibilities.

Working for a small weekly or daily paper is a crash course in all aspects of publishing, writing and photography. If you ever plan to publish you own newsletter, write one for a small company, large corporation or just want all around learning experience, try your local newspaper. The pay may be minimal, but the knowledge is priceless.

© Copyright 1999, Gloria Griepenstroh

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