The need for smart part of the newspaper business

Phil Castle

I’m reluctant to quote lines from a movie because of the nearly ubiquitous convention of so many who do. I’m willing to make an exception, though, because these particular lines encapsulate the sense of urgency I so often confront. I feel the need. The need for speed.

Not as a jet fighter pilot, obviously. But as a newspaper editor.

I don’t face the same pressures as some of my colleagues in the media. But I’d like to believe I’m no less determined to report news not only accurately, but also pretty darned quickly. News is a lot like fish — best delivered fresh. Otherwise, it starts to stink. 

The growing role of the internet and websites in reporting news has helped in leveling the proverbial playing field among newspaper, radio and television reporters. I no longer have to wait for the next print edition to come along to report an important story. My webmaster is always quick to respond to my emails and handles that task in minutes. Nonetheless, the ability to report news almost instantly has made the process all the more impelling. 

That’s not to mention deadlines — which haven’t yet gone the way of the buggy whip. They add to the stress that ranges from merely bothersome to full-blown apocalyptic depending on how close they loom. 

So it was with considerable envy I read a story by Thu-Huong Ha posted on Quartz about romance novelists and the speed at which they write.

She quotes as a poster child of sorts H.M. Ward, a self-published author whose novels have sold more than 20 million copies. Ward says she writes two hours a day and averages about 2,500 words an hour. By comparison, this little lament runs about 500 words.

Then there’s Katherine Garbera, who writes four or five novels a year and has completed more than 100 novels over the course of her career.

I attribute part of my problem to the habits I’ve developed over the course of my career as both a writer and editor and the conflict between those two roles. I believe writing is a constructive process — assembling something out of bits and pieces. Editing, on the other hand is a deconstructive process — dismantling something to replace it with something better. Sometimes that involves a polishing cloth. Other times a wrecking ball. What slows me down is trying to engage in both processes simultaneously. To deploy yet another analogy, I’m like a bricklayer who can’t move on to the next course until the one before is as perfect as I can make it.

I realize I’d be better off remembering Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and hare and the promise slow and steady ultimately wins the race. I can’t help thinking, though, of Chuck Jones’ more modern fable about the coyote and roadrunner.

I still feel the need. The need for speed. But I’m resigned to the likelihood I’ll never catch up. Not even with Acme rocket-powered roller skates.

Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Reach him at 424-5133 or