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The Graduate

Not a grammar geek

Kelly Conroy
MSM Class of 2012

Lawyers need to understand the law. Architects need to know how to design various types of constructions. Teachers need to be able to pass on knowledge from one generation to the next. There are some things in life that just seem pretty obvious. But does the Editor of a newspaper need to know the rules of grammar? I would suggest not.

I have taken a variety of journalism courses during college, including Sports Journalism and Global Journalism. These classes taught me how to do research and gave me tips for improving my writing. They have helped me learn how to write factually and grammatically correct, interesting and informative articles. None of my classes, however, prepared me for writing for Mike Hillman, the editor of the Emmitsburg News-Journal. My professors never told me that writing for a newspaper could be so much fun.

Every time I open an e-mail from Mike Hillman a smile spreads across my face. His enthusiasm for the paper is clearly evident. He always has some new brilliant idea to make the paper better and better. Sometimes he sends emails to all of the Mount writers to give us topic suggestions for our articles. Other times, he gives us a list of people in Emmitsburg who he wants us to interview. I smile when I open Mikeís emails because he has such great ideas and he is so passionate about the paper. I also smile because of his grammatical errors.

Mike is focused on the "big picture" (the important part) of the paper, so he doesnít spend as much time worrying about minor grammatical details. I spend hours looking for the nit-picky mistakes that no one would probably notice in the paper. Every little error makes me cringe. Thatís not to say that I donít make many mistakes myself. I still make a lot. Mike concentrates on the more significant aspects of the paper, such as wanting the readers of the Emmitsburg News-Journal to find quality articles in each monthly issue and eagerly anticipate the next edition. Grammatical rules seem to be the least of his worries.

This lack of attention to the rules of language is a new concept for me. Iím the type of person who is bothered by slogans from restaurants like Chick-fil-a that purposely misspell things like "Eat Mor Chikin." I guess you could describe me as a scrupulous editor as I search articles for extraneous commas and misused phrases. I am very attentive to using "there" and "their" and "our" and "are" appropriately. For example, you can write "The neighbors showed me their cat," but you canít write, "I went over their to see the cat." I can get easily frustrated when people forget that "our" shows possession and "are" does not show possession: "Our cat has cute stripes. Are you going to be able to see him?"

The English language is downright confusing and sometimes ridiculous! English is the most widely spoken language in the world so I am grateful that I was raised in an English-speaking family. Try to imagine learning how to spell and pronounce some English words. "Wind" can be the air moving outdoors or "wind" could be a twisting motion. "Polish" could be a liquid used to clean and shine hard surfaces or "Polish" could refer to a person or thing from Poland. A "sewer" could be a person who stitches fabric or a "sewer" could be a channel for waste water. Some words just are NOT spelled like they sound: one, who, shoe. Some words sound the same but are spelled differently, such as "seen" and "scene," "hear" and "here," "ate" and "eight." Sometimes words will have letters that you should ignore. Why do we put those letters in the words? Because thatís just how itís done in English! There is no need for a "g" in "gnat" or "gnaw." There is no need for a "k" in "know," "knee," and "knife."

I am not a master of the English language and neither is Mike. He claims to have flunked English in college and as a Mount writer, I get to see some of his blunders. Once, he sent all of the Mount writers an e-mail with the subject headline: "Who whatís to get paid Friday night?" Mike meant to say "Who wants to get paid Friday night?"

Another time Mike wrote all of us an email telling us to "Not to be ASAP." At first, I thought he meant that there was no rush for our articles this month. Then I realized that he probably meant to write, "Note to be ASAP." Mikeís emails can sometimes turn into fun guessing games. We have to try to decode his messages. What did he really mean as he was typing this e-mail at a million words per minute while working on three other projects at the same time? I ask myself.

Mike is a man of many talentsóI discover this more and more the longer I work for him. I can only imagine how many I donít know about yet. Heís a nuclear engineer who owns horses and oversees the entire Emmitsburg News-Journal. He collects the articles from all of the writers, manages the advertising, oversees the printing and meets with the Mount writers. He brings a great sense of humor to the paper. Once, he told me via e-mail to start "herding the cats." I donít own any real cats; he was referring to the other Mount writers. He never lets things get boring. (

One of the other Mount writers, Jackie Quillen notes, "My favorite articles to edit were undoubtedly written by Mike sometime around 12 a.m. after a glimpse of nature got him thinking about something good while sitting on the porch with his cat. His nifty voice-to-text program definitely gave us a good night's work of editing, and by editing I mean trying to decipher what the bizarre, out-of-place words originally were when Mike said them. Looking back, it was just another game of ĎWhisper Down the Laneí and hearing the original line was just as exciting as the game! No matter how grammatically incorrect Mike may be in his e-mails or articles, his message comes across 100% clear and he always has a good message at that, which is far more important."

After one of Mikeís spelling or grammatical mix-ups, we make sure to tease him about it at our next Mount writersí staff meeting. He always chuckles back and tells us how grateful he is for our editing work. The editing actually makes all of us writing from the Mount feel like we have more ownership of the paper. Each month, two of the Mount writers look for mistakes in the headlines and photo captions of the paper. One editor looks through the first half of the paper and the other editor looks through the second half. After Mike implements the changes, the paper comes back for a second round of edits. This time, the first editor looks at the second half and the second editor reviews the first half of the paper. It becomes somewhat competitive because we do not want to miss a single mistakeóor have the other editor point out something we didnít find. Editing really gives us an appreciation for the final product and we would feel very embarrassed if any glaring mistakes were found after printing.

Megan Kinsella, another Mount writer, agrees that writing for the paper under Mikeís leadership is a combination of work and play. She explained, "Mike definitely knows how to keep us on our toes. Working for him is exciting and hectic, and sometimes downright confusing, but always so much fun. I have learned so much in such a short amount of time working for the paper. Among other things, I've learned how to be a meticulous editor (due to his self-proclaimed extreme lack of English skills) and how to meet deadlines (sorry Mike, still working on that one)."

Itís important to be grammatically correct to offer the best newspaper to our readers. It also seems necessary to be so at other times. I would never want a misspelled tattoo on my body for the rest of my life. I wouldnít want to write the wrong sentence on a special occasion cake. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter promote misspelling and sentence fragments. It can be difficult to transition from writing a post on Facebook to writing an essay for class. Itís easy to write "you" as "u" after writing on a social media site. I hope that social media doesnít prohibit good editing in the future.

After one of our painstaking searches for grammatical errors, Mike showed up to a Mount writersí staff meeting and laid out the paper in front of the group.

"$20 to the first person who can find the error," Mike said.

"On the front page?!" we exclaimed with dismay. Our hunt for the mistake began and it took a lot longer than Mike expected. We were searching for some minor mistake, but then realized that there was a spelling error in the top headline on the front page . . . and only Mike had caught it. Perhaps our multi-talented head honcho isnít really as bad at grammar as he claims.

Read other articles by Kelly Conroy