Four months of research, writing, conducting interviews, taking photographs, making notes, transcribing events, re-writing, and searching for an intriguing answer to the assignment given was hacked into a mere 385 words with the malice and forethought of a serial axe murderer on holiday.
The assignment was straightforward. 600 words on the services and resources the local university provides to military veteran students, with a deadline of three weeks. To see what the current national trends in supporting student veterans were, the initial research was conducted by thoroughly combing through a compendium of newspaper accounts, articles from a variety of online publications and scholarly dissertations.
To my surprise, there was a surprising amount of research conducted within the state, and the data correlated with the majority opinions in other works about student veterans nationwide and the challenges they faced within institutions of higher learning. A thesis was formed and targeted questions were asked of the right people on campus. Their responses were infused with a few facts and transitional statements to lend an air of credibility and meet the intent of the assignment.
Journalism began as an altruistic profession, in the sense of improving the world by conducting research and asking tough questions in the interest of the pubic benefit and welfare. Gutenberg’s press sprang forth from the wellspring of creation in 1439 and along with it, perhaps to keep the balance of nature in check, came a most sinister and malevolent ghoul dedicated to relegating the power of the press through censorship. Outright government censorship is child’s play compared to the methods of this creature.
This fiend comes about through a parasitic and often symbiotic relationship with the owner of the press. His influence can be seen throughout entire publications, regardless of the type of media presented upon.
He is known to send his minions on fool’s errands, squander away the fruits of other’s labor, and throw entire tomes of intellect into the cavernous void of the memory hole with wanton abandon – merely to show his power over the lowly serfs beneath him.
The problem with writing, be it for yourself, for a professor, or as a profession is you will inevitably find your best work at risk of dismemberment from the editor.
Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time writing for anyone in any way, shape or form has felt the wrath of the editor. Hours are spent creating the perfect draft (or a draft that meets the minimum requirements) only to have words changed and trains of thought derailed into different directions. Entire paragraphs are kidnapped and murdered, left to die in the wasteland the editor curates for posterity’s sake.
After coping with the ruthlessness of the editor for many years, the majority of professional writers consider themselves extremely lucky if there’s even a reason presented to them for the horrors committed to their submissions. For many, the brutal treatment of their projects has become so routine, they expect nothing less than subjecting themselves to this degrading process multiple times before the editor moves on to future atrocities.
Some writers actually begin to enjoy this process and willingly begin to subject themselves and their works to this ritualistic dismemberment and sacrifice, according to long established editorial dogmas that have been curated over the years. These regulations have been preserved in historical records, spawning derivative denominations and organizations. They have been translated into multiple languages and persist through generations. These practices are preached from pulpits across the world, and practiced on a daily basis from the individual level to institutions of the highest legal authority.
These devotions are in vain and do little to appease the editor.
My first attempt was not good enough. There would be a re-write, based on the whimsy of the almighty editor. This new assignment was 1200 words, involving an in-depth look at the people within this subculture of student veterans. Who were they? What did they look like? Where did they congregate? Why were they here? How did they see the world? Why should anyone care?
I spent a considerable amount of time interacting with the student veterans. I found their meeting place, learned they look like anyone else on campus, and determined they were here to get an education with the prospect of better employment through self-improvement. I transcribed my interviews and reviewed the notes I had made for the previous assignment. I began to grow weary of reformulating opinions and chains of logic, so I decided to chop up some of my earlier work and patch it into the framework of the new story I was working on.
I was suddenly confronted with the stark realization that I had become the editor. The lights flickered and I felt a little dizzy. The emotional response must have triggered the release of a dose of adrenaline. Pulse was up, breathing was shallow. The smell of dust and archived paper became apparent. I found it hard to focus my gaze on anything for more than a few seconds. The sound of someone writing on a single sheet of paper with a ballpoint pen became infuriating.
Maybe I had been the editor all along and the manifestations of malice towards editors were strange psychological reflections of my own psyche manifested in the physical realm. Perhaps I had been infected by a previous editor and had surreptitiously become one of them, much like the townspeople of Santa Mira in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’ve always considered myself a rational and right-thinking individual; the possibility that I had somehow been indoctrinated by stealth was shocking to say the least. Perhaps I was simply in a panic.
Panic would explain it. I had a tangent thought, it frightened me on a subconscious level and I was simply in a state of panic. Eventually it would pass and I could chalk the whole thing up to a physiological response and forget about it. Nobody knew of the revelation I just had, and there would be no expectation of the need to see a counselor or religious person to verify my sanity.
With the second assignment complete, I looked forward to moving on to new subject matter and forgetting about the previous evening’s revelation. Maybe the realization that you are an editor is simply just another one of those universal truths the philosophers ramble on about all the time. Perhaps I should start a new religion. Our existential worldview is “we are all writers, working under editors within a hierarchy of managerial boards under the jurisdiction of the great publisher.”
My delusions of religious grandeur were interrupted when the boss wanted an 1800 word comprehensive re-write of both pieces complete with an annotated list of the resources used. I wrote over 30 pages, 110 paragraphs, and 14,000 words in twelve drafts, four re-writes, three finished pieces with a comprehensive bibliography and a trunk full of indexed notes, readings, photographs and drawings trying to satisfy my last assignment. The rules of the assignment kept changing, and, as always, the editor has the final say of what gets published and what goes on the killing floor.
What could have been a best-selling novel, or a doctoral thesis is now a few paragraphs fit for inclusion on a blog post, a brochure or a two-minute news broadcast.
And I had to pay for the privilege.
University of Arkansas Veterans Resource and Information Center Success
From staff reports
Less than half of a block north of the University of Arkansas bookstore, underneath the Garland Avenue parking garage lies a series of commercial spaces for lease. A patriotic sign above the door reads Veterans Resource and Information Center.
This is the home of the Veterans Resource and Information Center (VRIC); a place where veterans can get help with the University of Arkansas admissions process, receive assistance in applying for education benefits, scholarships, find resources within the community that support veterans, and study.
The University of Arkansas says there are 403 veteran students enrolled at the University of Arkansas.
Rachel Holt, the VRIC receptionist says what the VRIC means to her, "To me, the VRIC offers a home away from home for students on campus … it's a hub. A central hub location where students who are transitioning out of the military and into student and then civilian life can come for help; with resources that they might need whether it be something our department can do, or something that can be done through a referral to another department.”
Holt continues, “It's also a great place for community. A lot of friendships have been forged here. A lot of relationships have developed, and it’s really great to see the comradery. That's one of my favorite parts coming into work."
Erika Gamboa, a graduate student at the university is the founder and director of the VRIC. As a veteran of the United States Army Reserves, Erika says the VRIC “Means helping my brothers and sisters."
“When you have the connection of military it's a little different. We establish a different type of family bond that is quite unique.”
Erika started the VRIC with a laptop and the desire to help fellow veterans.
"It was just me and Mac, I was the VRIC. That was it. We were in the corner of someone's office, and, gradually we grew and I was able to show the need” she said.
Erika founded the VRIC based upon her training and experiences in the military being reflected into her current experiences as a student veteran at the university.
The VRIC has grown into a double commercial suite on Garland Avenue with a full-time staff. The mission of the VRIC remains the same however; connecting student veterans with the resources they need.