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NCEW resources help job search.

Call it the Editorial Writer's Dilemma: Your spouse is a physical therapist. The trade journal of physical therapy, PT Bulletin, has 22 pages of news in a typical issue - and fully 139 glossy, eye-catching pages of help-wanted ads. "$5,000 Sign-On Bonus," "Relocation Assistance," "New Grads Welcome," the display ads beckon.

You are a reporter or J-school student who aspires to editorial writing. The newspaper trade journal, Editor & Publisher, has 35 pages of news in a typical issue - and two, count 'em, two pages of newsroom help-wanted ads.

Most weeks, not one of those ads asks for an editorial writer.

The Editorial Writer's Dilemma, then, is this:

How do you get into physical therapy school?

Just kidding. The dilemma: How do you - how does anyone - find a job as an editorial writer?

I asked NCEW's 1993 officers (and a few other people) that question, and got fascinating variations on two broad answers. The first answer is for new J-school graduates; the second for experienced reporters (and editorial writers looking to move up).

The answers: 1. Forget it; and 2. Relax.

1. Forget it.

That's the cold-hearted consensus for new graduates. None of the veteran editorialists interviewed knew of any graduates who had carried their diplomas off the stage and directly into editorial writing jobs.

"No, I don't know of any who've done that," said William David Sloan, professor of journalism at the University of Alabama and co-editor of the anthology Great Editorials: Masterpieces of Opinion Writing.

"Editorial page editors usually do not take students right out of college," Sloan said. "Some of the students can write well, but they usually don't show the mature judgment or sensitivity that you want on your editorial page."

Tommy Denton, senior editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and NCEW's treasurer, agreed. "It is not fair to a person who is young and inexperienced to expect them to write editorials," he said. "The job requires analysis and judgment at a fairly complex level."

Denton's advice for new graduates: "Get out there and bang your elbows covering a beat. See how government works. See how people will lie to you.

"Learn everything you can. Then you'll be ready to move to the level of editorial writing."

Once you've done that, it'll be time to...

2. Relax.

Not really. But the mere fact that you would-be job hunters are reading The Masthead, the trade journal of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, shows you're already on the right track.

For the key to finding an editorial writing job is not answering classified ads; it's getting to know the industry and letting its players get to know you.

In other words, networking.

"Networking is by far the best way that I know of to find work as an editorial writer," said Joseph A. Geshwiler, an editorial writer for The Atlanta Constitution and NCEW vice president.

And NCEW is the best place to start. "Go to meetings. Go to conventions. Read The Masthead. Keep in touch," Geshwiler said. "I know that kind of networking works, because I've seen it happen."

Networking starts at your own newspaper, especially for reporters who want to break into editorial writing, Geshwiler said.

Most papers first try to fill editorial page vacancies with their own reporters. "The reporters are already familiar with the area. Plus, it's good for morale if the staff is able to advance," he said.

Outside searches are done only when no qualified candidates surface from inside. That's where networking comes in. Faced with two well-qualified candidates, most editors are likely to favor the one they over the one they don't.

One little-known but potentially pivotal dot in the network is the NCEW officers themselves: specifically, the vice president. He or she is the organization's informal clearinghouse for job applicants and openings.

"Right now I've got about a half-dozen applications on hand," said Geshwiler. "And though I don't get many calls from newspapers, they do come in. Since January I've had two calls from newspapers that were looking for people."

The NCEW board is looking at ways to make the job-matching service more useful, president Edward W. Jones, managing editor of The Free Lance-Star, said.

"We've talked about taking a more active role," he said. "A phone list, updated weekly? Something like that is very possible. right now, the service is just to low-profile."

After everything else, persist

After you've earned your stripes as a reporter and have started shooting for your editorial writer's commission, all that's left is persistence, the editorialists agree. Becoming a full-time editorial writer is not impossible. It's open to anyone with the smarts and the stamina to see the job through.

"We get applications every day," said Rena Pederson, editorial page editor of the Dallas Morning News and NCEW's secretary. Here's one that worked: "One person just kept sending us stuff and sending us stuff for about three years. He called when he came to town; he was just so persistent.

"By the time we had an opening, I was very impressed," Pederson said. The applicant got the job.

One corollary to the Editorial Writer's Dilemma:

Why bother?

Why spend years in training, then apprenticing, and then job-hunting, all for the "glory" of a job with modest pay and prestige?

That's easy, Geshwiler said with a laugh.

"Because writing editorials is a great job," he said.

Editorial writing is like a "graduate school of life," Geshwiler said. The work challenges you to study the human animal in all its glory and shame. That means reading widely, conversing freely, and thinking deeply about our astonishing species, then putting your conclusions on paper.

Your efforts may not change the whole world for the better. But they'll almost certainly improve your city's corner of it.

What more could a person ask?

"I love being an editorial writer," Geshwiler said. "I consider it the climax of a newspaper career."
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:National Conference on Editorial Writers
Author:Dennis, Tom
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Dec 22, 1993
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