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Starting at the top - at age 24.

If my rise to the mantle of "editorial writer" is any indication, not only can a young person succeed in this field, but anyone with a nutty scheme to break into the field should remain hopeful.

I had never even considered a career as an editorialist until my senior year at Indiana University, when I took a course on the art of opinion writing from Professor David Boeyink in 1994. My expectations were low; I registered for the class only because I anticipated writing a lot of editorials as editor of the IU student newspaper that semester.

But after only a few lectures, I was hooked. Writing editorials satisfied every reason why I wanted to do journalism: directly engaging the community to think seriously (or laugh) about the day's issues, and perhaps elicit some change.

My puerile enthusiasm and determination, however, didn't blind me to the difficulty of landing such a job. Any newspaper might have a dozen or more reporters and a bevy of copy editors and editors. But there were usually only a handful of people working on the opinion page, and in many cases just one, lone poor soul, often a longtime reporter.

Enter the Scheme. Knowing that newspapers needed editorial writers who could do more than write (they also needed to edit copy, design pages and work insane hours), I decided to prostitute myself on newspapers' copy desks or design desks - diving into the politics and social trends where ever I happened to work - until I could squeeze into an opening on an opinion page. I expected to play this game for 10 to 15 years before getting a "real" opinion-page job.

My Scheme's first test came at the Post-Register in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where I was fortunate enough to land a copy editing internship after graduating from IU in 1995. With clips from my student newspaper in hand, I was able to persuade (trick? fool?) the paper's very talented and overworked opinion page editor, Gene Fadness, to let me have a crack at representing the paper on a few national topics, which I wrote on my own time. It was a good learning experience, and I left the paper after a few months - this time with professional clips.

Test No. 2 for my Scheme was at The Times, a daily newspaper based in Munster, Ind. I actually started as a page designer at the paper's Valparaiso bureau, which The Times had recently acquired. When I was hired, I made sure that I would have an opportunity to do some writing on the side, as I had done in Idaho Falls, and that chance came after a staff cleansing in the bureau office. No one left seemed to have a special interest in the bureau's opinion page, and since, like nature, I abhor a vacuum, I persuaded (tricked? fooled?) bureau editors into holding editorial board meetings.

I got into a routine for several months, writing editorials on a regular basis on my own time again, thanks in no small part to another very talented and overworked opinion page editor in The Times main office, Krishna Gaur. It was during this time that I joined NCEW. More on that later.

Gradually the clips piled up, and I guess some were pretty good. In 1996, I won an Indiana APME honorable mention and become even more hungry for an elusive full-time job with an opinion page. Unfortunately for my sense of excitement, the real world wouldn't cooperate. In September 1996, a job switch to the business desk took me to The Times' main bureau in Munster. A few days after I started, the interim business editor left and I became the de facto business editor for about three months.

Though I cursed my way through just about every day during that time, I got important experience managing reporters, assigning stories and all that time-management stuff that your human-resources director always talks about. It also was probably a key factor in an unexpected event late in 1996.

Now, back to NCEW. For months, I had one of those cheesy "jobs sought" ads on the NCEW Web site. The ad was noticed by Larry Reisman, editor of the Press-Journal in Vero Beach, Fla. He called me, I flew down, and I was named the new Press-Journal opinion page editor - before my 24th birthday.

Somehow, that pathetically naive Scheme I came up with in college actually worked.

And since coming to the PJ, I've reveled in writing about everything from beach erosion to NBC's miniseries based on Homer's "The Odyssey." I also won a second-place award from the Florida Society of Professional Journalists and have caused quite a bit of grief for local political types, which I consider to be an award in its own right.

Are there people out there who could do a better job? Probably. I like to think, however, that the PJ is getting a lot more mileage out of me than it would from someone who would take the position merely out of a sense of obligation or because he or she happened to be the most senior reporter on the staff.

The Scheme now is undergoing a transformation. I know that I need some more education and a lot more experience to fully match wits with a lot of the bigwigs here in Indian River County, let alone larger regions that I hope to tackle someday. That may mean a detour to graduate school down the road or some sort of intensive-training sabbatical, as well as studying my colleagues' work at other newspapers.

In three short years, I've gone farther in my career than I ever dreamed simply by trying to do what I enjoy most.

NCEW member Eric Gorman is opinion page editor for the Vero Beach PressJournal in Florida. His e-mail address is egorman@sunet.net
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Title Annotation:editorial writing
Author:Gorman, Eric
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Dec 22, 1998
Words:973
Previous Article:What a long, strange trip its been.
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