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If we're smart, learning does not get easier

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center
When we can't see a personal benefit in an old task, and we give it our all in any event, we're smarter for it.

I have to admit that I almost went to rewrite.

If you don't know journalism much, rewrite is a term that can define a form of self-plagiarism, where you recycle your own work without telling readers. (It's also a system of reporting news stories from the field to a "rewrite" man, among other definitions not addressed here.)

If you've seen the movie "I Love Trouble," then you may remember the scene where an older journalist, played by Nick Nolte, is caught by his editor plagiarizing a past article to avoid the leg work in reporting. "And I don't print recycled columns," says the editor, who sends him off to rediscover the challenges that he once loved in his trade.

The young military journalists that I work with are not too familiar with rewrites, and that's partly because they don't have 1,000-story portfolios built up from past reporting.

Stress and deadlines can tempt us to get the job completed easier and quicker with a rewrite, or a professional cop-out. Do you have a comparable term in your work?

A Forbes report in January listed what it considers the 10 Most Stressful Jobs. #1 is an enlisted service member, #6 is a public relations executive, #8 is a broadcaster, and number #9 is a news reporter.

That report seems daunting for National Guard public affairs Airmen, often given just two days to do a month's work in all of those responsibilities.

I'll tell new journalists enrolled online in the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center's fourth edition of the basic news writing program this fall that there's no easy way to good reporting.

My rewrite temptation came in recycling the forward for the course, which I've written twice before. I took the higher road, but it was not a dramatic or tough decision. I like to write from scratch, even when it means maybe not my best work, because it affords learning. 

The course's spotlighted mentors, some of the best writers in the military, do their best to share lessons that they learned in many years of repetitive field reporting. They repeat, in similar fashion, that it's not a gift to be skilled at something; rather, it comes from challenging yourself:

"... you have to commit yourself to being the best, most professional journalist you can be and you can only do that by constantly doing interviews, writing stories and learning," said Lt. Col. Kevin Hynes, an award winning public affairs officer and journalist, who encouraged students in his 2014 spotlight.

"The only way to get better at something is to just do it ... You must practice, practice, and practice," suggested Tech. Sgt. Catharine Schmidt, a former Air Force News editor and newspaper reporter who writes on the National Guard's arctic and Antarctic missions.

"... there are times when we must be ready to go above and beyond. And that means working on things outside of drill hours ... the cold, hard fact is that the superstars do that. Not all the time, but often," Michigan history writer and two-time Air National Guard journalist of the year, Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton, told students in his spotlight.

Hopefully, our mentors' encouragement visits our minds when no one is watching, when the opportunity to learn, even in the most mundane and insignificant task we did 1,000 times before, means some leg work.