Tag Archives: Pacific Daily News

The gifts of writing

1979: Marbo Caves, Guam.

It has been a lot of years — more than 30 — since I have submitted a freelance article to an editor. The last time I did, as a senior year college student at the University of Guam, my approach was very different.

I typed my story, which was about an education program on the Northern Marianas island of Rota, on a manual typewriter. (I typed it several times, in fact, because I was unwilling to submit it with even a single typo or blot of Wite-Out.) I dropped my finished article in the mail at the campus post office. Several weeks later, when it was published in the Islander magazine section of the Pacific Daily News, I was overcome to see my words, and my name, in print.

For the past 21 years, as the editor of Raising Arizona Kids magazine, I have been on the other side of that experience. I’m the one who creates opportunities for writers, the one who makes decisions about whether something is worthy of pubication, the one who nurtures and encourages writers but also reluctantly wields the power to crush their confidence. So I approached my recent independent freelance assignment — a story about EthiopiaStudio, a design studio for sixth-year architecture students at ASU — with a great deal of reverence and care.

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Working with interns: A chance to get back into my 22-year-old head

When we first started accepting interns more than 15 years ago, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. I’m someone who is better at doing what I do than explaining how to do it. And I’m not very good at asking for help.

So I found myself apologizing for assignments I considered “grunt” work — even though I knew the tasks were vital. Or worse, I’d smile and say “thanks” for work that I knew I would (resentfully) spend hours redoing myself.

I had the wrong attitude. I was looking at interns as extensions of myself and expecting them to know what I wanted. I didn’t understand when they “didn’t get” something that I thought was perfectly obvious.

Older now, and wiser, I wish I could go back and redo the mistakes I made supervising some of our earliest interns. But I can’t. What I can do is learn, try again and move forward. And with each intern we bring in, I get a little better at it.

Part of the challenge for me has been learning to accept that I do have something to teach these young people. They are all extremely bright, capable, high-achievers. They are comfortable in this fast-paced, high-tech world and they seem more confident and self-assured than I was at their age. Sometimes I feel I have more to learn from them than they have to learn from me!

A December 1978 graduate of the University of Guam.

When I was a college student eager to launch a freelance career, I didn’t have a laptop, a flip cam, a digital camera or an iPhone. I couldn’t do my research on the Internet. I had a pen, a notepad and a tiny, portable typewriter I carried around in a small wicker suitcase.

Today’s tools make it easier to present a story but the basics of telling a story will never change. Some lessons resonate within any technological context.

I thought about that recently, while reviewing the first draft of a story editorial intern Brooke Mortensen submitted for our August magazine.

I’d sent her to a school in the Paradise Valley Unified School District to research a story about a unique partnership the school had formed with Arizona State University.

When she returned, she submitted a perfectly fine accounting of what she’d learned, in basic “he said, she said” journalism-school, news-reporting style.

As I read her piece I was transported back into my own 22-year-old head, remembering a similar experience submitting a story to an editor for the Pacific Daily News, a Gannett newspaper on Guam. I remembered his wise advice. And suddenly I knew what I had to do for Brooke.

Though it was a Saturday, and she was visiting family in central Washington state, I sat down to write her an email.

I told her about a time when I was her age, trying desperately to make some money as a freelance writer as I finished my college degree at the University of Guam.

I submitted a story to the newspaper’s Islander magazine — one of three interviews I’d conducted with former Guamanian governors. My editor, Floyd Takeuchi, read the piece and told me it was solid. But then he threw it back to me and said, “Where were you? I can’t even tell you were in the room!”

My “he said/she said” style was “by the book,” according to my journalism news reporting training. But I was writing for a magazine, he said, which is very different.

“What did you see?” Floyd demanded. “How did it feel to be in the room? How did he look while you were talking with him? What were his mannerisms? What was on his desk? Give me some ‘color’ — some details that will help me get a better feel for who this man is and what he’s all about.”

I searched my mind for details and added descriptions about the man’s brusque confidence, the guarded way he answered some of my questions, the “hop to it” deference I saw in members of his staff. Floyd published the story.

The experience taught me something I really needed to learn: There are reporters and there are writers. I wanted to be a writer.

I shared my story with Brooke because I think that’s what she wants, too.

A yellowing copy of the July 1978 article I wrote for Islander magazine about three of Guam's former governors.

Flooding forces a confrontation with fear

In May 2012, RAISING ARIZONA KIDS launched a new website. You now can find this post here.