Front page: Publisher answers questions about writing Journal articles

A similar article appeared in the August 2001 issue of The Journal.

By Dave Havir

BIG SANDY, Texas--Journal publisher Dixon Cartwright, who has varied journalism experience, credits the contributions of a wide range of writers as a major reason for the success of this newspaper.

"In the Churches of God many people are used to reading magazine articles and booklets from a small core of writers from their own church group," said Mr. Cartwright. "One thing that makes our newspaper appealing to many people is that they can read material from a wider variety of writers.

"Subscribers to our paper not only read material from the widely known writers in the Church of God, they read articles and letters from many writers from the grass roots."

Mr. Cartwright noted that the quality of submitted articles seems to be improving.

"Our paper receives quite a few inquiries about how to submit articles," he said. "When we explain our reportorial expectations to people, we find that many people are paying attention to our guidelines."

Following is an interview with Mr. Cartwright to answer questions contributors may have when thinking about submitting articles and letters to The Journal.

Church experience

Question: What is your background in the newspaper business?

Answer: In my second year at Ambassador College, in 1967, I began working on The Portfolio, the student newspaper. I set type, copy-edited, proofread and wrote a few articles.

After my graduation, in 1969, I worked for the college's printing department, which was then headed up by my good friend Ellis Stewart.

In 1973 I was part of the original staff when the Worldwide Church of God began The Worldwide News [a newspaper for WCG members]. I worked there for five years--four in Big Sandy and one in Pasadena--until Mr. [Herbert] Armstrong shut it down. Of course, he later started it back up.

In 1978 my wife and I founded and operated a typesetting and graphic-arts business in Big Sandy and Tyler, Texas, and ran it for about 13 years.

For three years in the 1980s we also published the weekly newspaper for the towns of Big Sandy and Hawkins.

I taught journalism and computer courses at Ambassador College in 1982 and again at Ambassador University from 1991 to 1994.

I received a master's degree in journalism in 1991 from Texas A&M University in Commerce.

Nowadays I publish The Journal as well as work with a few other small publishers and printers.

Q: Why did you start The Journal?

A: We--my wife, Linda, and I--started this newspaper in February 1997 because we wanted to help keep the communication lines open among members of the Churches of God.

I had helped John Robinson [of Berne, Ind.] with his independent Church of God newspaper, In Transition. In Transition's last issue came out in January 1997. John and I could not come to an agreement under which I would continue publishing In Transition, so I began The Journal, which is similar but not identical to In Transition.

News, editorials and essays

Q: What are the types of articles that are generally published in a newspaper like The Journal?

A: In general, our newspaper has three types of articles: news stories, editorials and essays.

Q: What is the difference between news stories, editorials and essays?

A: A news article is ideally the objective reporting of news: Dog bites man, or maybe man bites dog.

An editorial gives someone's opinion about a news item or situation of interest to our readers: Dog is justified in biting man.

An essay in The Journal is similar to an editorial but usually includes Scripture references and expounds a scriptural or doctrinal principle: Men, but not dogs, will rise in the resurrection.

Q: What type of articles do most people submit?

A: We receive many more opinion pieces than news articles.

Q: When you say opinion pieces, are you talking about editorials and essays?

A: Yes. Editorials and essays give the opinion of the writer. But we should also include letters in that category. We treat letters to the editor as little editorials.

Q: How do you narrow your choice of articles? How do you decide the specific ones to print?

A: The local Journal staff meets once a month, before each issue, to plan the issue. We don't nail down every detail in our meetings, but they're quite helpful, and if certain articles we had considered running raise a red flag in the minds of the staff members, then we'll talk about them.

The staff members, of course, have opinions, and an opinion I rely heavily on is that of my wife. Many's the time she has made a suggestion that has altered the way we write or edit an article or that has even altered our decision on whether to run a particular article.

Editorials and essays

Q: How would you describe the difference between writing a news article and an opinion piece?

A: News articles need a lead and documentation or at least attribution. They usually contain direct quotations. An opinion piece is an exposition giving the opinion of the writer about some subject or other.

Q: Which is easier to write, news articles or editorials?

A: In one sense an editorial is much easier in that one can simply begin copying down words based on his stream of consciousness.

But to do an editorial right is much more difficult than that. A writer needs to engage the reader in a discussion, even though the reader isn't immediately saying anything. A writer needs to make convincing and reasonable-sounding arguments to convince the reader that his view is valid.

Q: Do you have advice for people who submit essays?

A: As I said earlier, essays usually include Scripture references whereas many editorials do not. But an essay should not be just a list of scriptures. From time to time we have received essays that come close to being literally nothing more than a list of Scripture quotes.

We at The Journal view an essay more like a sermon at a church service than a Scripture-reading at a church service. We understand the value of Scripture-reading, and we know that people like to read their Bibles.

But we view a submitted essay like a sermon. We encourage a writer to state in his own persuasive words the concepts he has in mind, sparingly citing scriptures for backup.

Q: Do you require a query letter from a potential editorial or essay writer?

A: No, we do not, although a query is sometimes a good idea.

Q: Should a writer of an editorial or essay shoot for a certain style of writing?

A: I think there are certain styles it is best to avoid. A polemic style that one might call a rant is not necessarily the most persuasive of arguments. There may be proper places for that kind of discussion, but we prefer the come-let-us-reason-together approach. I don't think we're necessarily more persuasive just because we yell at people or set every other word in all caps or italics.

Another piece of advice I like to impart concerns the length of an opinion piece. The shorter the better. If it runs too long, the reader will lose interest. The writer can always refer the reader to his literature inventory or Web site to read more about the subject. The Journal piece can be an introduction or an excerpt rather than a Bible encyclopedia or concordance.

Will be edited

Q: How should a writer expect his submitted article to be edited?

A: Every article is edited: for spelling, punctuation style, capitalization style, flow and length. It's just going to happen.

The trick is, of course, for us not to change the meaning of an article. We want to retain the writer's meaning.

A frequent edit of news articles involves the lead, the first paragraph or two or three of the story. Writing a good lead can be difficult, and many's the time that we discover the real lead buried in the middle or even hanging at the end of the article. When we find it, we move it to the beginning. That, of course, is an edit.

Q: What happens if a contributor of an article states that it is not to be edited.

A: We let the person know that his request is unreasonable. We will not use an article in The Journal that we are not allowed to edit.

Bypassing the editing

Q: Is there a way for an article or essay to escape the editing process?

A: Sure. If someone buys advertising space in Connections, the advertising section of The Journal, his article can run virtually verbatim. If the article meets our general criteria for topics, we will look out only for misspelled words or typographical errors.

[For more information about advertising, see "Publisher Tells All About Advertising in The Journal," beginning on page 1 of the Sept. 30 issue.]

Q: How would you describe the difference between the editing process for an article in The Journal and the editing process for an advertisement in Connections?

A: Philosophically speaking, an article submitted to The Journal becomes ours, while a paid advertisement stays under the control of the writer.

Too many words

Q: How important is the length of a letter, editorial or essay in helping its chances of being used in The Journal?

A: As I mentioned earlier, length is important. Most articles can be shortened, and many of them are improved by cutting out repetition and unnecessary points. If we receive several editorials, the ones that are 1,200 to 1,500 words will gain an immediate edge over those that are 4,000 to 7,000 words. Unfortunately, many of the latter never make it into print.

Q: I understand the value of short articles. Why, then, does The Journal sometimes print extremely long articles?

A: I think it's sometimes because I get seduced by a specific long article written by a writer who holds my interest. I just get involved in it and throw all caution to the wind. I'm trying to work on that. Also, as we all know, certain things are attributable to time and chance. The newsroom can get pretty hectic at times.

Headlines are sentences

Q: People often confuse a title and a headline? What is a headline?

A: I'm glad you asked that. The definition of a headline is simple. It is a complete sentence; that is, it has a subject and a predicate. "A Dark and Stormy Night" is not a headline, as far as we're concerned. But "Pleasantville Church of God Splits on a Dark and Stormy Night" is.

Q: Can a writer influence what headline The Journal selects?

A: Certainly. One way to influence us is to include a headline with your article. We will probably not be able to use it verbatim, but it may well furnish us with a good idea for the headline that we do come up with.

It's even a good idea to write two or three or four possible headlines. That gives us a bigger choice, and it provides us with extras that could end up as the jump head.

We really appreciate writers who furnish us with ideas for a headline.

Q: Some people may not know what a jump head is. What is a jump head?

A: The jump head is the headline over the continuation of the article as it leaps to a new page.

Include an editor's note

Q: Is there anything else a writer should submit with his article?

A: It would be helpful if he supplied information for an editor's note.

Q: Some people may not know what an editor's note is. What is an editor's note?

A: The editor's note is the italicized blurb that appears just before the byline of editorials and essays.

It briefly identifies the writer. It could note his longevity in the Churches of God; it could include family information or educational background. It just needs to include something to give the reader an idea of who the writer is.

For examples of editor's notes, see page 3 of any issue of The Journal.

Q: Should writers submit an editor's note for all potential articles?

A: Not necessarily. We use editor's notes before editorials and essays because, if you think about it, you'll realize the writer himself is a part of those kinds of articles. Such is not the case with a news article. A straight-news article does not generally need an editor's note. But when in doubt include the note.

It's also a good idea for the writer to include his phone number and E-mail address with his article. Those help if we need to contact him for any follow-up information before we print.

News stories

Q: Does The Journal prefer to assign staff members to write its news stories?

A: Not necessarily. On some occasions The Journal may prefer that a staff member cover a specific news event. However, we welcome contributions of news articles from individuals and representatives of groups.

Q: What are some things a writer should remember when submitting a news story?

A: Accuracy and as much objectivity as feasible are two major ideals to shoot for. If the subject is controversial, such as a church split, get at least both sides of the story, although there are usually more than two sides to any story.

Q: Do you want freelance writers submitting news articles about subjects like church splits?

A: We are happy to read and consider any article someone wants to send us. However, if someone sent an article about a church split we would probably be more likely to use it as an editorial or letter rather than a news article. We might even be able to excerpt part of it as quotes for our own news article.

I mention church splits, but I want to point out that The Journal loves articles of a positive nature. So please keep us in mind when something good happens, not that a church split isn't necessarily good.

Q: Does The Journal accept press releases from individuals and church groups?

A: Yes. That is a customary way for people to submit material to a newspaper. By submitting a press release, a church group can submit a news story that serves as notice of a project, product or service it wants other people to read about.

Q: Does The Journal generally print a press release exactly as it has been submitted?

A: Most of the press releases we receive are edited for length to fit in our "Notes and Quotes" section on the last page of the newspaper. Press releases that we use for articles are edited according to our general procedures.

Working with groups

Q: Since many church organizations are accustomed to editing and approving articles before publishing them in their own magazines or newsletters, do they expect you to seek permission from them before you print an article about them?

A: That was more of a problem when we first started publishing. But, since we've been around for almost seven years, many of our news sources realize we're an independent newspaper, a product of the free press.

Q: Some people assume that freedom of the press means a newspaper must print everything people submit to it. Just what do you mean when you say freedom of the press?

A: No, it does not mean we must print everything someone sends us. As journalist A.J. Liebling said, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. Freedom of the press means you have the freedom to start your own publication.

Q: So The Journal does not seek permission from church officials before you print an article about them?

A: No. Although we do frequently communicate with our news sources in an effort to quote them accurately and in context, we do not seek their permission to print news articles that report on their activities.

Q: Is The Journal willing to listen to complaints from officials of church organizations?

A: Oh, sure. But, if a particular group or organization happens to show reluctance to work with us, then I think it has little cause for complaint if it claims we did not fully represent its side of the story.

We run into that from time to time. Some people have complained because they say their side was not covered, yet they had declined to comment when we offered them the opportunity.

An administrator of a Church of God group recently complained to me that he was unable to provide us with certain information that would tell his side of the story because church policy forbade it. Yet related sources who were not church employees felt free to talk to us for the article.

My response to that kind of complaint is that perhaps the church should change its policy.

If someone has a complaint after an article comes out, no problem. Among other things, The Journal is a forum for a continuing discussion among the Church of God brethren so it's easy for someone who thinks we did not fully report a story to simply write us a letter and we are quite happy to consider running it either as a letter or a page-3 editorial.

Accurate details

Q: What are some other things to remember when submitting a news story?

A: If the writer mentions a person's name, it is helpful if he includes a title or other identification of himself and notes his city of residence. If the person is a man or a child, we usually like to include ages as well.

If you submit a picture or pictures with the article--by regular or E-mail--be sure to identify each person in the picture, with his full name and city of residence, for the cutline.

On a more-serious level, it is important to quote sources who have firsthand knowledge of a news situation, especially if the situation is one that may prove to be controversial. We have declined to report on several situations because the information someone submitted to us was hearsay.

Q: Some people may not know what a cutline is. What is a cutline?

A: The cutline is the caption that runs under a picture. In the old days, pictures were cuts, which I assume came from woodcut. So the lines of type under the picture are a cutline.

Love those letters

Q: How important do you view the letters section of The Journal?

A: I love the letters. I know it's the first feature many readers turn to when they receive their copies of The Journal. On the other hand, I know some people never read them.

Q: Do you print every letter you receive?

A: No. I'd say that typically we print maybe 35 percent of the letters we receive. I mentioned we edit for length. Length can be a problem in a letter. We love letters that are 100 to 300 words. We will print longer ones on occasion, sometimes even up to 900 words. But the shorter ones have a better chance of making it into print.

Q: People have noticed that you are not afraid to run letters that are critical of your paper. What is your reason for doing that?

A: One reason we do not hesitate to run letters that criticize our publication is that our policy shows we are not afraid of criticism. That practice enhances our credibility, and it encourages people to write who don't necessarily agree with everything we or our writers say.

Keep them coming

Q: How should readers submit an article, letter or advertisement?

A: Writers can send letters and articles directly to our editorial department at P.O. Box 1020, Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A., or They can E-mail me directly at or

Advertisers can submit ads or check on rates by writing Darlene Warren at or 2150 Catalpa Rd., Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A., or call her at (903) 636-4470.

This issue of The Journal includes many photos and several other graphics, besides the Connections advertising section. Don't forget to subscribe to the print version of The Journal to read all the news and features previewed here.

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