Knowing how to end a story in time

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 9, 2007

One thing about being a grizzled newspaper vet — which truly means an old guy still working in newspapers because he can’t find a decent job that most decent people occupy, for those who weren’t bedazzled by the phrase,

“grizzled” — there’s little that comes along in the normal pace of a newspaper week that fazes one.

Whether it’s last-minute story called in by someone who forgot to call, say, about a week earlier when scheduling would have been so much easier on the soul, or a breaking news story that no one can see coming, the newspaper vet can handle it.

Such as a column like this one.

Here’s a little inside baseball: Sometimes the space in which to write is confined, bordered, measured.

There are roughly 165 columns inches available to each newspaper page. Some items require a fixed number of inches, and the remainder is like getting a big puzzle to fit a tiny space.

The uninitiated may have to get some of the precious words cut by a soulless editor whose job it is to fill the space with sentences that end with a period, even if the thought of the sentence is not complete. It’s much like a fast-food restaurant attendant who must ask at the end of an order at the drive-through, “You want fries with that?”

It’s that sort of professionalism that separates the amateur from the pro.

Knowing how to write to a certain story length takes great discipline and deft.

Nothing can distract the old pro.

Grizzled, as was stated above, does mean old. I saw a recent photo of the back of

my head and was stunned to see field of gray where my brown hair once occupied.

Anyway, guys never know about what the back of their head looks like. When we get a haircut and the salon expert asks us to hold that hand mirror, we simply don’t where to aim the thing.

Which, somehow, brings this back to this: Grizzled newspaper guys know exactly how to end a column that fits the space, makes sense and is useful. That’s why the skill

Paul McFarlane is the Editor of The Tidewater News. His e-mail is