The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Adam Smith

August 5, 2013

A sincere ‘thank you’ to my mentors

(Continued)

Mr. Dobyns

My dad spent much of his working life on the second or third shift at the Anniston Army Depot. That meant I didn’t see him much during the week growing up, except on weekends.

When I was two or three years old, however, I have the vague memory of him waking me up and getting me out of bed in the middle of the night. He basically wanted someone to eat ice cream and watch TV with.

His choice of program at the time was “NBC News Overnight,” featuring Linda Ellerbee and Lloyd Dobyns. I don’t remember much about the program itself because I wasn’t much older than a toddler.

As fate would have it, Mr. Dobyns began his second act as a journalism professor at JSU the same year I started my journalism career.

Mr. Dobyns was the last of the great curmudgeons. “I hate college kids,” he’d tell us. “But I like students.”

He liked the newspaper staff, however, because he got his start as a newspaper reporter. However, a fellow newspaper staffer and me were severely dismayed when Mr. Dobyns gave us both a “D” in the class. Not making a “C” or better meant we’d have to repeat the class again the next semester to stay in the communications program.

His reasoning for the “D” grade? “I liked having you both around,” he told us.

We were both miffed, but we liked being in his class as much as he liked having us around.

“What’s wrong with the lead on this story?” he’d ask me. I’d often be puzzled by his question.

“Well, keep rewriting it until you figure it out,” he’d say.

The correct answer was that my leads were too wordy; they didn’t sum up the crux of the story in one well-constructed opening sentence. Mr. Dobyns wasn’t necessarily a proponent of what journalism professors call the inverted pyramid — important information at the top, followed by supporting comments and background. Mr. Dobyns was simply a fan of tight, succinct writing.

I lost touch with Mr. Dobyns after I left JSU, but each time I write a lead now, I ask myself, “What would Dobyns think?”

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