Thursday, March 24, 2016

At the beginning...

I get asked, quite often, how I got started as an editor -- but to tell that story (for another time), I have to start at the beginning....

I would have to blame two teachers as initially responsible for getting me into this mess: my seventh-grade English teacher, whose name, sadly, I have unfortunately forgotten (give me a break, it was 3,000 years miles away, in Pennsylvania, and many (many) years ago....), and my twelfth-grade Journalism teacher, Mrs. Doris L. (I'm using only the initial of her last name, to protect the guilty, of course....).

In seventh grade English we learned -- studied -- had hammered into our very being -- sentence diagramming: complex sentences, over and over and over again, such that I could diagram entire paragraphs in my sleep. This taught me to spot misplaced modifiers, incorrectly referenced pronouns, etc., etc. with the eye of a sniper siting through a scope. Unbeknownst to me at the time -- one doesn't think beyond the present moment when one is being hammered! -- she taught me the beauty, the rhythm, of an elegantly written complex sentence.

Mrs. L, on the other hand, was more of a facilitator, a mentor, but more on that shortly. One of my fellow staff members on the school newspaper was Mike W. He had the responsibility each issue to share with readers the goings-on at other high schools. So Mike traded copies of our school newspaper with dozens of other schools throughout the U.S. He came up with a name for his column: "The Lid's Off." You and I know, of course, the double meaning of that title, but not so the faculty of our high school at that time. When each issue of the school newspaper was published, we all got a bit of a high-school chuckle seeing that column title. Yes, I know, it's very sophomoric, but then again, we were all sophomores.... (Actually, we were seniors, but you get my point.)

For whatever reason, Mike W. quit high school about the halfway point and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. We weren't best friends, so I never learned his rationale for such a decision, just one day he was at school, and the next day he was gone, and Mrs. L. informed us of his actions.[1]

Once Mike was no longer on the newspaper staff, Mrs. L picked me to take over his column. I liked the name of the column, but the content was BORING. Imagine reading dozens of high school newspapers each week, and selecting the most exciting news to share with your fellow students. It was probably what drove Mike to enlist in the Navy! This school in Utah is hosting their annual spelling bee. And this school in North Dakota had to cancel their father-daughter event because white-out snow conditions resulted in road closures. Like I said, BORING.

So, I approached Mrs. L with a suggestion for a change in subject matter (but keeping the column title, of course!) -- content that would be of more interest to students given the current climate: a music review column. Thankfully she agreed, and I was issued official school press credentials.

And let me tell you, those credentials got me in free to so many concerts, and the occasional backstage pass, too -- and one-on-one interviews with many of the performers... I truly never minded having newspaper "homework" on evenings and weekends.

But I digress.... Mrs. L taught us that, because a newspaper has limited space, each word must count, each word must be critical to the content: there is no room for luxury. We edited our own writing, and then we edited each other's writing. After which, Mrs. L would review our work and show us what poor editors (and often writers) we really were.

The newspaper class, at least for me, was an escape from the reality of the rest of high school. Because I went to a lot of concerts in the evenings and during weekends, I often used my time in newspaper class to study and catch up on homework for other classes. I guess as long as I was working, regardless of what I was working on, Mrs. L never hassled me. I found her class a sanctuary.

At the end of my senior year, she signed my yearbook:
Martin -

You may have felt imprisoned in school this past year, but in reality you've been "growing" in a very visible, if gradual, manner. You are one of my most "memorable" students.

~ Mrs. L


1. All of which made no sense in the overall scheme of things because a few months later, I read a brief article in the newspaper (the Orange County Register), with the headline "Sailor Jumps Ship in Japan" -- about two column inches worth of text -- stating that one Mike W. from Anaheim, California, along with a fellow seaman, jumped ship in Japan and was currently AWOL. After that, I never heard, or read, anything further about Mike W. -- so Mike, if you're out there reading this, post a comment, will you?


I'm choosing to keep the name of my high school confidential as well. But if you do your homework, you can figure it out: Singer/songwriter Tim Buckley (who passed away in 1975) graduated from my high school, as did the co-writer on most of his songs, Larry Beckett; they were, in fact, classmates. Singer Gwen Stefani (with the band No Doubt, and currently a judge on The Voice) graduated from my high school as well. And lastly, bassist Jim Fielder also graduated from my high school. Jim played with the original Blood, Sweat & Tears; he also did stints with the Buffalo Springfield and the Mothers of Invention.

Speaking of which, the background music while I'm writing this post is Frank Zappa's You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore 12-CD box set (literally, a wooden box!).  Never could get enough of the song "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama."


  1. Nice story. Hopefully a current school newspaper editor will read this. Randy

    1. Randy,

      Thanks for your comment. I would imagine that the decline in newspapers, and all printed media in general, over the past half-dozen or more years, has drastically changed how Journalism is taught in our schools today.

      - martyh