John Lutz: The Importance of the Martlet

As part of the Martlet 70 Fundraiser, we’ve asked former Martlet staff to answer an important question: why do we need the Martlet?

It’s not just a newspaper. Of the many reasons one might give for the vital importance of the Martlet: students’ need for knowledge and transparency about events and activities that affect them; the possibility of a forum for discussion of important issues; its role as a common medium that creates a campus community by connecting us…to name a few, I want to say a few words about its role in making better writers.

True that the Martlet is both a training ground and a fantastic resume builder for anyone wanting to go into journalism. I know many former Martleteers spread across the country working for newspapers, radio, tv and internet media, all having careers that relied on their training and experience here. I am not writing about them.

The vital impact I am writing about is how the Martlet helped me and so many others in non-journalism jobs — to become a better communicator. The Martlet taught me, more effectively than any university course I ever took, to write for readers. Thanks to the editors at the Martlet, my boring, too-detailed, too-long, no context, stories were sent back for re-writing. It was at the Martlet, I learned the importance of the “lede” — the opening sentence and paragraph that has one main job – to grab the reader by their sleeves and draw them in. And it was at the Martlet I learned that less is more, to prune everything I write to its core and prioritize communicating meaning over sounding smart.

Over the years, these simple Martlet lessons have earned me more than a million dollars of successful grant applications, and helped me win book, article and web prizes, not to mention allowed me to write what I hope is an entertaining annual family new year’s letter. It’s not just a newspaper.

By John Lutz, professor and chair of History, University of Victoria and Martlet Editor 1981-82.

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