Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Editorializing from the bunny cage

“I was cleaning out the bunny cage,” said my friend Kathy, as I wondered fleetingly why she was telling me a story about animal sanitation, “when I looked down and saw an article you’d written about sightseeing in Concord.”

Covered with rabbit poop, apparently, but still, my byline shimmered through. Hmmm. In the 21st century, journalists are happy to be read at all, and I’m no exception. If that’s what it takes, it’s still good enough for me.

Every journalist fantasizes about readers who scan the pages looking only for that one byline, eager to read any word you write, on any topic, but I find more often these days that people are reading me by accident, as Kathy did while freshening up her pet rabbit’s dwelling. Actually, I’m impressed that she gets a print copy of the newspaper at all, with all the virtual options now available. My household subscribes to the iPad version of the paper; when an article of mine gets published, I have to ask my parents to save the clipping for me so that I can add it to my portfolio. Occasionally when my daughter wants to do an art project, she’ll ask me for newspaper to protect her work surface, and I’ll have to admit we don’t have any newspapers in the house anymore, so she ends up papering the kitchen table with supermarket circulars and real estate brochures instead.

Stories are getting shorter, too. The quarterly alumni magazine for which I write used to allot me 1,200 words per profile, or one full two-page spread. A few years ago they cut the profiles from two pages back to one page, or 600 words. For the most recent issue, my editor said she thought 450 to 500 words would be ideal. “Do you want me to just do a detailed photo caption?” I asked her, half-joking.

Still, I find it just as satisfying to know my work has been read now as I did with my very first byline in our local newspaper when I was a college student trying to accrue clips for a job-hunting portfolio. Earlier this month, I wrote a story for the Globe about a Concord family taking part in a trans-Iowa bike ride. The day it was published, I received emails from two different newspaper editors at small-town papers in Iowa, asking if they could run my story. Of course, I told them. I’d already gone to the trouble of writing it; why not savor the fact that more eyes would rest upon my words, at least for a moment or two while they scanned the lead paragraph?

Other writers are more opinionated than I am about the issue of proprietary work and intellectual copyright in the Internet era. I know my work has been printed without my knowledge at times; if I Google my name, I find references to essays I wrote for local publications popping up in special interest magazines and newsletters from Alabama to Albania. But it’s okay. We write to be read, just as we speak to be heard. Whether it’s Albania or the bunny cage, I’m happy to be in print.

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