“We Need a Story,” the Editor Says

Newsroom Ode #2: Reporter on deadline

By Don Nelson of the Methow Valley News

“We need a story,” the editor says,

As if “we” included me

As a decision-maker

In any meaningful way.


“Make it a news feature,” the editor says,

As if that meant anything.

Editors don’t know, either.

They just like to say it

Because it makes them sound

Authoritative and knowledgeable,

But of course they’re not.


“By 5 o’clock,” the editor says,

With 10 sources, nut graph, back story,

Context, narrative structure, graphics and maybe

A FOIA request.


“Keep it to 500 words,” the editor says.

Because we are short on space,

Not to mention imagination or creativity

Or just plain common sense.


At 5:20 p.m.

The story returns

From the editor’s desk

Bloodied and mangled,

Eviscerated and mutilated,

Like road kill whose species

Can’t be identified from the remains.


Dumped back on my desk

With no direction,

No explanation,

No observation,

No suggestion

Of how to revive the carcass,

As if I could invoke

Some shamanic chant

To restore its life.


At 5:40 p.m.

The story goes back to the editor

With minor changes.

The editor doesn’t care

Having done the editing thing

And moved on.


Tomorrow, the editor says,

I will be covering

New tiger cubs at the zoo

Unless there is a plane crash

Or a mass shooting.


If I let the tiger cubs bite me

Maybe I can just go home.

DonNelson-thumb2Don Nelson

Don Nelson has been editor and publisher and reporter and photographer and delivery boy and coffee maker and dishwasher and post hole digger (not really, just threw that one in to see if you are paying attention) and all-around whatever-needs-doing guy since the Fourth of July, 2011, his personal Independence Day (just ask the IRS). Don has worked a lot of places but likes this place and this job the best. He does, however, drive an 8-year-old “rig,” lives in a cabin way outside of town and is learning to love “Methow Time.” Just writing this made him 15 minutes late for something or other.
First posted by NiemanStoryboard.org

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