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Fostering young writers is NCEW goal.

Last fall I had the opportunity to speak about editorial writing to a class of journalism students at the University of Idaho in Moscow. I was waxing eloquent on the finer points of sharpening the editorial voice and selecting hard-hitting topics when Sara Yates, the Argonaut's opinion editor, stopped me in my tracks with a question: How do you get someone started writing his or her first editorial?

Her words reminded me of Maura Casey's reaction to the first NCEW critique session for student editors at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism last May: The bright young people didn't just want a "mini-workshop" on editorial writing, Casey said, "they were dying for it."

The students at Columbia came from schools like Cornell, Vassar, Berkeley, and Smith that do not offer journalism. But even if they did, chances are slim editorial writing would be taught. NCEW has discovered that instruction in critical writing is becoming rarer and rarer.

A 1978 report found that the number of schools offering courses in editorial writing declined since 1960 from 75% to 57%. "If our 1978 findings do not prompt a voicing of our concerns to the schools," wrote LeRoy Smith in The Masthead, "we should not be surprised if in another 18 years, the opinion-writing role becomes a vanishing item in the curriculum."

NCEW tried valiantly to turn things around. Strategies included compiling a list of more than 100 member/volunteers to speak on campus; a writer-in-residence program; a critique service for college newspapers; and an in-depth survey of editorial writing courses. Yet all this good thinking and hard work couldn't turn the tide. Smith's 18-year prediction came true: In 1996, Fred Blevens reported in The Masthead that fewer than 10% of responding colleges and universities said they offered editorial writing courses each semester.

NCEW's board and the NCEW Foundation board have been dusting off a strategy suggested years ago. The best way to counteract the decline of editorial-writing courses on campus maybe to bring our message and our critiquing skills to the students where they are -- on campus, in student newspapers, and in regional meetings.

That was the rationale behind adding an NCEW critique workshop to the Columbia student program last year. John Taylor plans to offer another workshop at Columbia this year. Other projects in the works: A regional workshop at Penn State, home of Journalism Education Committee chair Tom Berner; collaboration with the Society of Professional Journalists at its regional meetings; and overtures to groups like the Society for Collegiate Journalists and the Associated Collegiate Press. How about a membership drive to recruit journalism teachers who could help connect students and NCEW?

This is the third year of the endowed Clendinen professorship in editorial writing at the University of South Florida, named in memory of former NCEW president James A. Clendinen, with added support from the NCEW Foundation. And Convention chair Tom Waseleski vows that he and critique chair Dale Davenport will make another attempt to attract students to this fall's NCEW gathering in Pittsburgh.

I look forward to working with Berner and Regional Conferences chair Dick Mial, pursuing new opportunities to reach students in the coming year. Your ideas and contributions are also welcome. I also haven't forgotten that plea from Sara Yates in Idaho and have asked Maura Casey to start thinking about a guide to help students get started in editorial writing.

Why this focus on students? They are the future, a key to the survival of our craft. If the unique and constructive role of the editorial writer in community life and the nation's life is worth preserving, we must find ways to pass on the skills and goals and challenges of critical writing. Washington governor Gary Locke put it well when he spoke to us in Seattle about the future. "What will happen when this generation of editorial writers is gone?" he asked. "Will they understand the critical issues and complexities?"

NCEW president Fred Fiske is senior editorial writer for The Syracuse Newspapers in Syracuse, N.Y.
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Title Annotation:National Conference of Editorial Writers
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2001
Previous Article:NEW MEMBERS.
Next Article:MEMBER NEWS.

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