Tuesday, November 04, 2014


In my first column for (West Virginia State College) "The Yellow Jacket" I had written something that was clearly an homage, albeit unconscious, to this widely-praised local gadfly. After all, how better, than a la Anderson, to skewer the noxious jingoism of "Up With People." In the phone call I received from Anderson, not only was I complimented on my "Up With People" roasting, he also offered me a job at the Charleston Gazette. This, after my having written exactly one piece of journalism in all of my nineteen years. I accepted his gracious offer on the spot, but I'll probably never know whether it was my "School of Anderson" approach to writing, or else L.T.A's sensing potential writerly talent, based on the slimmest of evidence, that caused him to hire me. 

Showing up for work a few days later, in classic newspaper fashion, I was set to work rewriting obituaries. Almost immediately, however, things began to go south when it became apparent that my "Up With People" column was a fluke: I couldn't write my way out of a paper bag. The second week, Anderson called me over to his desk to get to the bottom of things. "For a journalism major, you sure do make a lot of errors," he said. "But I'm not a journalism major." "Oh well, just come to see me every day after we put the paper to bed and I'll teach you everything you need to know about writing for a newspaper in no time." If he was worried about his impulsive act of hiring me, it didn't show.

That afternoon, after the paper was put to bed, the thirty-or-so of us in the city room looked on, grinned and rolled our eyes heavenward as Anderson leapt up on his desk and launched into his regulation, old-fashioned, practical neo-Marxian oratory on the folly and illusion of private property. Thrusting his index finger downward, and in the style of the Bible Belt preachers he otherwise abhorred, he inveighed: "Who or what gives you or anyone else the right to say that you and you alone OWN the land under your very feet. . .?" And so on and so forth. He proceeded to lead the assembled faithful in singing the old Protestant hymn, "Bringing in the Sheaves." He was in earnest, but trying to come off like too much of an unreconstructed Commie via the injection of his strong stock-in-trade-humor. It was a masterful performance. Then, true to his word, he leapt down off his desk, ripped a length of copy paper out of the typewriter, seated himself, and called out my name:

 "Young Reed! It's time for your lesson. Beginning with the golden mean of journalism, the inverted triangle. Always start your most important information and then arrange the remainder of your paragraphs in descending order of importance so that the editor always knows to cut from the bottom if the piece needs to be sheared away at for space." With that, he commenced upon a several-months-long daily seminar on the not-so-intricacies of newspaper writing. 

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