by Alex Mellen
Nothing prepares you for working for a newspaper like . . . well, working for a newspaper. I learned that when I started my first full-time job out of college at the Ashland Times-Gazette as a copy editor. My semesters with the weekly Taylor University Echo were the most valuable training for the future, as well as my Professional Writing and Media Communication classes.
The atmosphere in a newsroom resembles almost-organized chaos. It’s full of papers rustling, keyboards clicking, music blaring, and people talking and shouting. At any time, you’ll encounter someone with a deadline that’s in two hours or less and someone else trying to finish four things at once (quite often those were both me). I’m glad I was exposed to this sort of environment at The Echo so I wasn’t shocked by it later. Operating in it five days a week instead of one can be wearying, but less so once you find your rhythm and get faster at the work. Also, as copy chief at The Echo my senior year, I met with staff writers during the week to help them improve their stories and fill in gaps of information. This made me more comfortable asking journalists questions at the Times-Gazette.
Many of my major classes at Taylor also taught me useful skills for my job, though I didn’t always realize it at the time. At a small newspaper, copy editors handle every aspect of editing, from evaluating structure to revising a lead to correcting punctuation. Media Writing gave me the skills I needed to cover all of those. Sometimes copy editors also lay out pages using the stories they’ve just read, so taking InDesign and Layout and Design classes saved me a lot of learning on the job (and probably gave me an advantage in landing the job). And even Doc Hensley’s rules for writing (use short words, delete extra words, find the most precise word, etc.) help me fine-tune articles I edit. The concepts are ingrained in me so I can catch things even on a quick pass.
Doc likes to say that his classes are laboratories for the real world of writing. The Echo is a laboratory—a scale model—of a real newspaper and a showcase of the variety of jobs that keep it running. However, you can’t learn everything in one day a week of one semester. My classes provided a base of knowledge, and The Echo provided a chance for application.