Rebel without a column

- by Sharon Ashwood

ravenousIt’s no big surprise that newspapers have been caught up in our current economic midway ride. People buy less advertising, so the papers cut content, which means few readers, which leads to fewer advertisers, and around we go again. Not that I have any bright ideas to solve this cycle of self-destruction … I’m just mad because I was laid off.

I’m lucky this was more a blow to my pride than my pocketbook. For over a dozen years I was a freelancer with a cozy niche at an award-winning local paper as the go-to gal for a certain type of piece. I’d survived four editors and my old reliable self came with the coffeemaker and the threadbare carpet. Over time, the freelance wages had been whittled to a pittance, so when the budget cuts came it wasn’t the money I mourned.

Fledgling writers coming along behind me are losing the most. There is no training ground like a newspaper for learning the basics about deadlines, editorial feedback, pitching, and hooks. It helped me move from an academic writing style to a more public-friendly approach. I learned to research and interview. Sure, there are other places to get one’s feet wet, but for me this was a straightforward means to test my writing skills in the real world with real pay at stake, under the (mostly) gentle guidance of some no-nonsense, smart newspaper writers.

They’ll probably still pick up the odd piece from me, but that’s not the point. I don’t need their mentoring as much anymore, but scads of creative writing students do. Good reporters and critics—especially ones with the chops to go on to other literary enterprises—don’t just happen. There’s an investment of hands-on training and experience that has to come from somewhere, and someone has to take enough of an interest in newbies to teach it.

The point? I’m grateful for the opportunities I had. I don’t know what is going to fill the void left by the shrinking newspaper industry. Yes, waxing nostalgic about the red pencil experience may sound crazy, but the discipline helped in ways the blogverse never will.

Something will come up, because it always does, but it will be different. I just hope it creates space for learning. New talent awaits.

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