The power of the (green) pen

An assignment with corrections from John Kupetz. Photo by Rachel Barber

When I saw that my story had more green cursive on it than it did black type, I thought that I was in the wrong place.

My school newspaper is on hiatus (it’s a long story), and we don’t have a journalism class. I was completely unprepared for a “competitive five-week journalism residency,” and I really wasn’t ready to be taught by John Kupetz.

I played with my ring and tapped my feet as I sat around the table with 11 strangers and our instructor. As everyone introduced themselves and John referred to famous old movies like the 1972 “Look Homeward, Angel” (huh?), every passing moment confirmed my fear that I didn’t belong here. I was about to get on the next plane home, but then John said something that changed everything.

Staring down at my green-covered page, he said that he uses the color because it represents hope. He said he has hope for our writing, and we should, too.

I exhaled. I was in the right place, and I had been placed with the right instructor. All John wanted was to see us push ourselves. I had very little experience, but I was ready to give every assignment my all.

After every story, John told me to push my reporting by asking more questions and talking to more people. For the trend story, I reached out to about 20 people and interviewed 11 of them — each for about a half hour. Although interviewing experts was initially nerve-wracking, I learned that it’s much easier to write a solid story when you have more than enough information.

When I had my conference with John that weekend, I realized how much I had grown as a writer in such a short time, and I couldn’t wait to continue reporting and improving.

The 12 members of our instructor group celebrated these small achievements together and formed friendships over trying to decipher John’s handwriting, but we also bonded during team competitions. John didn’t care how well the team ranked as long as we were gracious. So we went into every event with the goal of having fun and clapping for the winners.

But when Cheraoke rolled around, my teammates and I knew that we wanted to win an event to honor the man who taught us everything we needed to know about journalism, movies and life.

And we won. We knew that our success was a tribute to John’s guidance and jokes, his regular lengthy emails with links to stories he thought we’d find interesting and the printed-out articles that would help us with our stories. Most importantly, our power came from his green pens, always reminding us to keep hoping.