Learning To Speak A New Language



Paris Metro - Elizabeth Harper 2010


During my recent visit to Paris with my sister Margaret, she snapped this shot with her iPhone on a crowded Metro train (can you see how small I’m trying to make myself and the disembodied hand over my left shoulder) All over Paris we kept seeing signs advertising classes designed to teach people how to speak Wall Street English. Reading them, I had visions of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko standing before a chalk board with ” Greed Is Good ” in large letters and a class full of French folks repeating the words slowly one at a time.

Success in any field is contingent upon many factors only one of which might be understanding the language and language can expand to include the necessary knowledge of the industry such as in my case yesterday with regard to news reporting versus feature writing.

Yesterday, I sent off what I thought was a fairly well crafted letter to a large US newspaper suggesting that perhaps there might be a place for my type of writing. I was clearly thinking of my style as being one easily adaptable to feature writing, but I was quickly and very nicely informed that the kind of writing I proposed, ” does not fit with our mission to cover local news and features. “

The woman who sent me the nice response did say that she enjoyed my blog, but it still felt a bit like getting the ” Miss Congeniality ” award to me. I was glad to receive a response at all though and sent back a short thank you while thinking to myself that even though I don’t speak the language of the newsroom, I certainly could do excellent feature work for them on a variety of topics including some more serious areas such as healthcare in the UK versus America … based at least in part on the personal experience of a medically savvy American living in the UK. This suggestion did not get my foot in the door either.

Having spent a great many hours researching the newspaper and the changes it has been through in recent years, I thought (maybe naïvely) I might have a chance and while I don’t think I need to go back to school if I want feature writing to be part of my future, perhaps I might need to work on presenting my ideas using the language of the industry a bit better.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on my first giveaway post if you haven’t had a chance to stop by, do take a minute to listen and comment here. The contest ends this Friday at 2:00 am Eastern Standard Time.

8 thoughts on “Learning To Speak A New Language

  1. ” does not fit with our mission to cover local news and features. “

    Somehow that sounds similar to the remark they gave my granddaughter when she auditioned for American Idol, “It’s not just what we are looking for” (I think most of the contestants got the same remark). What they were looking for was one of the persons who got a call back, a singing dentist dressed in costume holding a toothbrush as tall as he was.

  2. Those who are able to write for income have my great admiration. You already have me stopping by every day for some good reading. Surely there is a place willing to pay for the style you do so well.

    Taking classes at the community college, my schedule included Composition I and II, Creative Writing, Journaling.
    I had to set down sentences in very different ways if I expected a decent grade in each class. I struggled to find worthwhile words.

    Earning an AA degree at age 50 makes me realize I have no desire to continue in academia which might expect me to turn in a 25 page research paper (on an obscure topic) for a letter grade.

    If I want to do any more writing, it will be my own way.
    I have no expectations of being paid for my words.

  3. Unfortunately, newspapers are having their budgets severely whacked — they’re laying off staffers, not hiring freelancers. If they want features about health care in the U.K., they take them from the wire services for which they already pay a monthly fee.
    Sadly, the “local” aspect is what’s keeping plenty of newspapers alive. An article about health care in the U.K. doesn’t matter as much to some people as, say, “Where to get a free mammogram in our community.”
    The larger newspapers do still buy freelance. You just have to accept the fact that it’s damned hard to break in.
    Naive? More like “idealistic.” You have something to say and you want to share it. Not your fault that the communications industry is undergoing such upheaval.
    I agree that you should try other outlets. We need more voices, not fewer, in the equation.

  4. I feel your pain. I could write for a newspaper. I did it all through high school and college. However, my bachelor’s degree isn’t in journalism. So I can’t get hired to write for newspapers. Ah well… That’s why I blog.

  5. First of all, that poster is obnoxious. No wonder they think we’re cretins.

    Second, why don’t you contact your U.S. hometown newspaper. They might be interested in the views of a hometown girl now living in the U.K. It would be a start.

  6. @Dee Thompson: I was a newspaper reporter for 18 years (1984-2002). Many of the reporters with whom I worked did NOT have a degree in journalism, but rather degrees in English, business, general studies, etc. Some of them (including me) did not have a degree at all.
    The no-degree days are probably past. And I’m not saying that a J-degree wouldn’t be useful. But it may not be essential.

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