Saturday, August 06, 2016

Love letters

“MARKING papers” is an inevitability if one embraces teaching as a calling. The expression may confuse some but is actually more accurate than the Filipinism we favor: “checking papers”.

In reply to an expat colleague, who commented on the uncommon number of teachers bent over their desks in the faculty room, I explained that we were “checking papers”.

When she came back to the room to refill her mug of tea, she said that the expression was quite new to her. Indeed, reviewing papers means more often pointing out slips and gaps in the work than making neat little check marks.

Generations of students have this one abiding memory of being in my class: a trail of “bloody” papers inevitably demanding to be rewritten and resubmitted for more “marking”.

The journalist who taught me how to write news in college narrated how her teacher favored a green pen for checking copy.

The tradition was to use a blue pencil since typewriter ribbons came then in only two colors: black and red. “Blue penciling” meant scribbled “love notes” an editor left on copy that should not be ignored by a “green” reporter who wanted to spend a lifetime with ink-stained fingers.

Personally, I like red pens. Nothing like the impact of red against white paper to stand as visual semaphores: Replace that verb! Are you stringing along adjectives? What’s wrong with a period? Check, spell, get it right.

The advent of computers was supposed to lessen the writer’s post-editing traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Tidy, neatly-aligned-to-the-right balloons contained the editor’s comments, insertions and deletions instead of the slashes and unreadable, unprintable comments of the blue-pencil era.

I don’t mark copy in this virtual, bloodless manner. I tell my students it’s a compliment to have this kind of close, obsessive, ferocious reading of their works. Pay attention to your reader. Listen to what she thinks. If the copy is returned to you without marks, it may be already perfect. Or it was never read at all.

This midyear, seven students chose to apprentice with print newsrooms. That’s about 10 percent of a batch whose predominant choices leaned towards corporate or development communications.

This “Magnificent 7” intrigued me. Millennials have a different way of reading and, presumably, of writing. Of all the kinds of writing, news writing for the print medium is the least expressive, the most self-effacing, the most enveloped by conventions and standards.

At least two student moaned that they would never get a story published.

That was at the start of the course. The stories told by their writer’s journal tells another thing. At the completion of 200 hours, an intern submits a compilation of their published works. I require they pass the entire printed or online page so I can see how the editor treated their article and grade them accordingly.

More telling than the editorial treatment is the student’s filing of their body of works. Some articles were filed in the folios as if the writer was in a bloody hurry, impatient with an assignment once passed, already focused on the next one and the next deadline.

Other interns file their articles, even those of a few column inches, in a scrapbook to be scanned some day with a grandchild on one’s lap, hanging on intently to the retelling of the backstory behind each article. Once upon a red pen…

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 17, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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