"A reporter's responsibility is to the
reader. The reader is my client and
my purpose is to keep the reader
up, the newspapers and radio were a bore.
There were no women reporters or
announcers. The people who did those
things were men. So I read a lot of magazines because I noticed that this was
something women did, women wrote
stories that were published in magazines."
Wright's family was very supportive
when at a very young age she began
writing poetry and "boring everyone who
came to our house by reading it to
After graduate school at Columbia, she
went job-hunting in New York. It was a
harrowing experience. The New York
Herald-Tribune had just folded and every
job opening in town had a dozen Herald-
Tribune reporters standing in line with 10
to 15 years experience.
She finally did land what she calls a
"stroke-of-luck" job, however, working
on a documentary for WOR-TV.
Wright developed an interest in consumer topics when she moved to Austin.
She wrote consumer protection and investigative pieces for the Texas Observer. In
1972 she came to Houston as the consumer
reporter for KPRC-TV, later switching to
hard news. She now writes a monthly
column, "Image," for Houston Business
Journal, and teaches a course for news
reporters at the University of Houston.
"The public's right to know is more
important than a person's right not to be
libeled," Wright told participants at the
"The Supreme Court, however, is
taking a more and more narrow view of
Writers on writing
by Anita Freeman Davidson
"Freelance writing is very lonely work.
I came here to meet other writers. "
"People always tell me I write great
letters. Well, I want to find out if I can
do anything else."
"Iget paid to write and I don't know
how to do it. "
Series for Serious Writers
sponsored by Breakthrough Foundation
"Community response to our writer's
seminar was tremendous," said Ruth
Barrett, the new executive director of the
"The class is filled to capacity and it is
clear we answered an important community need."
The foundation office received over
200 calls and accepted 50 participants for
its six week Series for Serious Writers
which began on July 22 and continues
through August 26.
Barrett attributes the success of the
seminar to the strong interest of writers
who want to improve their marketable
skills and to the high caliber of professionals who agreed to share their experience with the group.
"We came up with a program that we
thought was first-rate and then we invited
first-rate speakers. Once we decided we
wanted a session on the art of interviewing,
for instance, we invited expert interviewer
Thelma Schoettker. Everyone on our list
accepted enthusiastically. We were delighted."
In addition to Thelma Schoettker,
other speakers are Wendy Haskell Meyer,
associate editor of Houston Home
& Garden; former news reporter, Susan
Wright, now a University of Houston
journalism instructor; Jim Asker, a
reporter with the Houston Post; Charlotte
Moser, art critic, Houston Chronicle; and
Neal Barrett, author and communications
Wendy Haskell Meyer offered a great
number of practical suggestions to participants at the opening lecture.
" Type your manuscripts in large type
so they will be easier for editors to read."
She also gave valuable advice about
gathering information and conducting
interviews. "Listen, and people will
write your stories for you. Even if you
don't agree, keep it to yourself and the
person will keep talking."
A self-taught writer, Meyer did her
first writing in a private journal which she
started at the age of 42. "I enjoyed
writing and decided that if I was going to
expend my energies, I might as well try to
She attended writers' workshops and
clinics, read writers' magazines and started
submitting her work.
"The first ten things I sent out came
back. But I always had at least five things
out and when something would come
back, I would just rewrite it and send it
"I really began to feel like a pro when
I became the Houston correspondent for
the National Observer." Meyer had a
story in the first issue of Texas Monthly,
and when Houston Home & Garden
began, she went to them and said, "Look,
I have 10 ideas for stories. Can I submit
them on approval?" They didn't buy all
the stories, but it was the beginning of a
very profitable relationship. When the
magazine underwent a reorganization two
years ago, Meyer became an associate
"Every job I've had, I got because I
was very aggressive," says Meyer. Her
editing post leaves no time for freelancing,
but she hasn't given up writing. In her
spare time, she is collaborating with a
gynecologist on a self-help book about
women's genital infections. It will be
published by Putnam.
Susan Wright, speaker for the second
lecture of the series, calls herself a
"reformed magazine junkie."
"In Oak Clair, Wisconsin, where I grew
the public's right to know." She noted
the recent Supreme Court ruling that
police officers were acting properly in
their 1971 surprise search of the offices
of The Stanford Daily, Stanford University's campus newspaper.
Other recent Supreme Court decisions
in libel law also narrow the press's franchise. "A reporter must know enough
about the law, as based on major rulings,
to know when to call in an attorney,"
Asked what reporters could do about
the narrowing of press freedoms, Wright
urged reporters to insist upon their rights
under the First Amendment, but to be
fully prepared to meet police and/or judicial retaliation.
"A reporter's responsibility is to the
reader. The reader is my client and my
can't believe art is that complicated."
Asked how she went about viewing a
painting in an exhibit, Moser said, "First
I analyze it on a purely retinal basis, scanning for information like color, texture,
structure,. Then I just look and let it worP
on me. Either it grabs me or it doesn't.
Art is something of the soul, and for me
it has to be responded to that way."
"You have to see a work of art objectively, assimilate it personally and then
put it in historical perspective."
"Artists are dependent upon critics to
get their point across. An artist's reputation will be affected by a critic's misinterpretation. It's a tremendous responsibility. A critic must be prepared to say that
an artist's work is mediocre, or good, or
phony. You have the responsibility to art
and to your readers to say this. You have
to be prepared not to be loved. Criticism
is not the field to go into if you are looking
for strokes. You won't find many."
In the opinion of many news professionals, Thelma Schoettker is the best
interviewer in town. She shares her skills
in the fourth lecture of the series.
Schoettker's first job was writing television promotion. "I went to an employment agency and told them I didn't know
what I wanted to be, but I wanted to be
Schoettker came to Houston 15 years
ago to do a talk show on KTRH. She had
a mid-day show on KPRC-TV for a while,
and then moved to KEYH as Program
Jim Asker is a Rice graduate who began
his career as a reporter writing a political
column for the Rice Thresher. "I approached writing as though it were a
science that I would master to convey
complex ideas and make people understand what I was thinking. The poetry of
putting words together came later."
Asker started out at the Houston Post
four years ago on the suburban desk—
sometimes known as the "Boondocks"—
covering everything from hurricanes to
rodeos to the Ft. Bend County Commissioners meetings. Later he was a one-man
Baytown Bureau. Then he went to the
city desk where he covered education.
"Now I am in the happy position of
being free from the responsibility of a
daily department," says Asker. As a
general assignment reporter, he does some
daily work when a department is particularly heavy, but most of his assignments
are for features and special projects, which
means he usually has at least a couple of
days to work on a story.
In the fifth lecture of the series, Asker
will talk about getting the words on paper,
rewriting, and judging when the copy is
ready for an editor. He will also critique
the work of participants.
Neal Barrett, Jr. has been a writer most
of his life. He even has a degree in writing
Listen, and people will write
your stories for you."
purpose is to give information and keep
my client informed."
The third lecture of the series was by
art critic Charlotte Moser. "I like the idea
of criticism as documentation. I am documenting art."
Moser took a degree in studio painting
from the University of Texas, but chose
to be a writer and taught herself the craft.
"I wanted to help people make decisions
about art." She began by writing art criticism for the Daily Texan while still in
Moser freelanced for several publications including the Houston Post back in
the days when they published art features
on Sunday only. In 1974 she moved into
her present position as art critic for the
"A more relaxed, humanist style of
writing is coming into fashion," Moser
said. "Formal criticism is boring, it's too
cold for me. As one artist I know said, I
—not journalism—from Oklahoma University, one of the few schools in the country
that grant a degree in writing. He can
often be found back at OU during the
summer, teaching short writers' courses.
In fact, OU turns out a high proportion
of successful writers, and Barrett is one of
them. Science fiction is his specialty: he
has published 10 novels and about 350
Barrett's first job was editor of a house
organ for an Oklahoma City daily paper.
He has held numerous corporate positions,
including Director of Promotion for Bran-
iff International. He and his wife, Ruth
Barrett, own a communications consulting
firm, providing services to ad agencies.
As the final speaker of the series,
Barrett will focus on editing skills, and
from his own experience, will offer the
views from both the writer's and the
editor's sides of the desk.