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Learning Journalism in the Summer of Watergate

Patricia Sullivan

There was something oddly familiar about the name on an obit I read this morning. I couldn't place it, or the photo that went with it, until I got down to this line: "Within a few years, she started a summer session course for high school journalism students at Catholic University that endured until she retired in 1975."

Hey! I was there! Dr. Regis Boyle, who died Sept. 24, ran the program that was my introduction to Washington in the summer of 1972 (as I like to remember it, the summer of Watergate) when I first encountered D.C.'s miserable summers -- no air-conditioning in CU's dorms then, and we calculated the misery of the heat and humidity by how many showers we took: two-shower days were bad, but three-shower days were awful.

The first obit, on the next page....

As co-editor of my high school paper in the Midwest, I arrived in DC, a naive kid on her first airplane ride. I recall a teacher from The Washington Post named Leonard Shapiro -- a sportswriter who showed us how it was done in the big leagues. (He's still here, as a matter of fact.)

I remember two other things. We had a contest to write the shortest, most to-the-point lede (the first paragraph of a news story). The basics came from Dr. Boyle's resume and a quick interview. The news was her untimely death. I won with: "Dead." Paragraph. "That's what she was, the blue-haired woman who...."

The second thing I recall was they used an innovative technique to teach us deadline writing. A dull lecture was interrupted when someone burst in a side door and fired two or three (blank) shots. The shooter shouted something ("sic semper tyrannis," perhaps?), ran across the room and disappeared out another door. A stunned silence. Then mayhem, shouts, calls for the ambulance, etc. etc. After few minutes, the teachers turned to us and said it was all a set up and we had five minutes to write a story based on what just happened. Best training I ever had.

By Patricia Sullivan  |  September 26, 2007; 12:06 PM ET
Categories:  Patricia Sullivan  
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