Publisher answers questions about writing Journal articles

By Dave Havir

BIG SANDY, Texas--"The Journal appreciates the articles, letters and advertisements of our supporters," states Dixon Cartwright, publisher and editor of this newspaper.

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

Church experience

Question: What is your background in the newspaper business?

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

After graduating in 1969 I continued to work for the press department. In 1973 I was on the original staff when the Worldwide Church of God began The Worldwide News [a newspaper for WCG members]. I worked there for five years 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 East Texas for about 13 years. For three years in the 1980s we also published the weekly newspaper for 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 in Commerce.

Nowadays I do print-job setup for printers and small publishers and freelance editing and copy-editing. My background is in typesetting, editing, writing, printing and publishing.

Q: Why did you start The Journal?

A: We started this newspaper in February 1997 because we wanted to help keep the communication lines open among the Churches of God.

Working with groups

Q: Since many church organizations are accustomed to editing and approving articles before publishing them in their own magazines or newsletters, does The Journal 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 present its side of the story.

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

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 an editorial.

Monthly meeting

Q: How do you prepare for an issue of The Journal?

A: Each month members of The Journal's immediate staff meet to discuss possible articles for the issue. As we talk about news of the Churches of God, we decide who will handle which article. In the case of an active staff member who doesn't live in the area--I'm mainly talking about Bill Stough, who lives up in the St. Louis area--we bring up any ideas Bill has about articles he plans or is working on.

Q: What type of articles do you usually discuss?

A: In those informal meetings we mainly talk about ideas for news articles. Because we receive many editorials and essays from our readers, the immediate staff does not generally come up with articles of those types.

Sometimes, for a series of essays, we will invite someone who is not on our staff to participate. An example is the current essay series on divorce and remarriage.

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

A: A news article is ideally straight 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.

News stories

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

A: No. 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: Are there some things to remember when submitting a news story?

A: Yes. Accuracy and as much objectivity as feasible are two major goals. 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 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. In fact, we might be able to excerpt part of it as quotes for our own news article.

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. Some ladies, we've noticed, don't like to include their ages.

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.

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

A: The cutline is the caption that runs under the 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.

The value of editing

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

A: When that happens, we generally politely decline to consider it. 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 times we find that the real lead is buried in the middle or even at the end of the article. When we find it, we move it to the beginning. That, of course, is an edit.

Q: Do writers ever make favorable comments about The Journal's editing of their printed articles?

A: Yes. We are pleased that many writers comment that our editing enhances their articles. That's our goal. A few grumpy writers have complained that they didn't like our editing. Just kidding about "grumpy."

Bypassing the editing

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

A: Yes. If someone wants something run virtually verbatim--maybe an article, sermon, discourse on doctrine--it can probably go as is as an advertisement in the Connections section of The Journal.

Connections, which falls under the management of our advertising lady, Darlene Warren, consists of paid advertising. I don't want to sound mercenary, but Connections has turned out to be an interesting part of The Journal in that its content is much less controlled by our staff compared with the regular news articles, editorials and essays.

Let's say someone has a doctrinal discourse he has submitted to The Journal and for whatever reason we have not seen fit to run it. It could be because we've already run something on that subject. It could be because it's too long. It could be because it does not fit our editorial style. It could be for any of a number of reasons.

Generally speaking, we will sell space to the writer if he would like to run it as an ad.

Most ads run virtually verbatim, although we try to look out for misspelled words or typographical errors. We also look out for material that we believe could be libelous; we do not want to participate in communication that could libel somebody. In that case we either receive permission from the advertiser to edit out potentially libelous phrases, or we ask him to do such editing himself--or we decline to run the ad.

Q: Will you run an advertisement in Connections on any subject? Do you have criteria for topics? Have you ever turned down an ad?

A: No, yes and yes. We have turned down several advertisements, including full-page ads. In general, we run ads from Sabbatarian Christians who are not promoting a belief in the invalidity of the Old or New Testament or the invalidity of the law of God or the invalidity of the identify of Jesus as Savior and Messiah.

There can be exceptions to our general guidelines, however. For example, we have run ads from an Orthodox Jew who was advertising the availability of some small trees that might interest Church of God members of a Hebrew-roots persuasion for use during the Feast of Tabernacles. Even though that ad was not from a Sabbatarian Christian, we decided it would be just fine to advertise the man's products.

Loves 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 25 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. It enhances our credibility, and it encourages people to write who don't necessarily agree with everything we or our writers say.

Too many words

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

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

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

A: Again, length is important. Most articles can be shortened, and many of them would be 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: So you never print long editorials?

A: We do on occasion print those that are quite long. For example, we kicked off our divorce-and-remarriage series in June with a long essay from Dan White.

But Dan is a great writer; his timing was fortunate because we were already planning a series on D&R; and I think he brings up a lot of questions that will force people, especially those who disagree with him, to hone their arguments.

It's a good principle to write short even if you leave your readers wanting more. That's better than wearing them out with too many words.

Include an editor's note

Q: I have heard you say that you wish writers would always include an editor's note with their articles. Just what do you mean editor's note?

A: The editor's note is the italicized blurb that appears just before the byline of certain articles, mainly 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 editor's note. We can always delete it if it is not appropriate.

Q: It seems to me that a writer would want to influence what The Journal puts in the editor's note. Why do you think some don't give you one?

A: Some writers just don't think about. And I think sometimes a writer leaves out the editor's note because of a misplaced sense of modesty. He doesn't want to toot his own horn. But if the writer of an editorial, for example, will not let us toot his horn by letting us identify him, then I'm sorry but we will probably not print his article.

We greatly appreciate it when a writer gives us ideas for the editor's 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 the issue.

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: Sure. 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.

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

Advertisers can submit ads or check on rates by writing Darlene Warren at Rt. 3, Box 523, Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A., or

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