Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vietnam Battalion Stringer -- Part Three: Developing a sense for news

For this dyslexic, writing was a second language.

So,when the editors wanted words from me in some kind of intelligent presentation, I had to learn how to write them. This included what is known as cut lines.

Cut lines are brief descriptions under images that explained what the image was all about.

I was notorious for run on sentences. I still do it. Just not as bad as I used to. Here's an example of what I mean:

On February 20th, 1970, I decided it was time to go on R&R because I wanted to and decided to go to Japan where the sun isn't out and I could enjoy the simple pleasures of the cold weather and visit Osaka and take images of places where the good times are and could meat very interesting people.


I'm not even going to try to clean that mess up.

So, what is reverse pyramid?  It is an agreed upon presentation of information that a reader expects to see in a single glance. Starts of with the how, what, where when and why:

At approximately 13:13 pm, on Friday the 13th Of March 1969, serial killer Freddy Krueger sliced and diced another sleep deprived teenager at the corner of Glen Fry and Eagle Street, Record Label, PA.

Now, I'm not going to bore you with the entertainment I have rolling around in my head...not.

"We got this call from a hysterical lady saying a blob of human rubble was lying in the street," said police Sergeant Johnny-on-the-spot PublicityFreak. "So, we hurried over and sure enough, there's the body."

1"Another dead teenager. No longer human.  Just a pile of blood red, raw meat.

2"Makes me sick. I won't be able to eat pink glazed doughnuts for a week."

Okay, so I produced the first line using:

Who:     Freddy Krueger
What     Murdered a teenager -- sex unknown
When:   13:13 pm, on Friday the 13th Of March 1969
Where:  Glen Fry and Eagle Street, Record Label, PA. 
Why:    We can't possibly know why since Freddy Krueger hasn't been caught and questioned 

Explicit facts about the scene of the crime are presented in such a way that each fact can stand alone without having any adverse effect on the story. Aside from comic relief, the last two lines -- marked 1 and 2 -- don't move the story along quick enough. So, they would most likely get cut before going to blues.

The easiest way for a cub reporter to work the reverse pyramid is to be given a book with tear sheets:


Title:      _____________________________________________
By:        _____________________________________________

Who:     _____________________________________________
What     _____________________________________________
When:   _____________________________________________
Where:  _____________________________________________ 
Why:    _____________________________________________

First Interviewee:





Second Interviewee:





Third Interviewee:





This proved to be very valuable as it forced me to stay inside 300 words and taught me how to write sense into my non-sense.

But there was another type of article I needed to be able to write.  One known as a feature. And that is much longer than 300 words. Today, I know how to write those and quiet easily. Back then, having to write one was a nightmare on Elm Street.

Enter SP4 Thomas Harding.  He was assigned to Division Artillery and he was an excellent writer.
And I was the guy with the camera. But to make this work, I had to provide him with some facts.

This is what we settled on:

  1. Provide a scenario were friendly forces might see these Cobras in action without being under fire.
    1. Practice mission
      1. During the day
      2. During the night
    2. SERTS training
  2. What makes your unit different than the Air Cavalry
    1. Purpose of the unit
    2. Why this kind of unit is necessary in Vietnam
      1. Issues with double and triple canopy
      2. Close air to ground support for friendly troops
      3. Over target assessment of the situation
      4. Extends the maximum range beyond that of 105mm and 155mm
    3. How many other uints are like it in Nam
  3. What are the names and the nick names of the Batteries
    1. Where are they located
    2. How many Cobras are assigned
    3. What signifying mark tells them apart
  4. How does each Battery work
    1. What is a section
      1. How many cobras are assigned to each section
        1. How is the Cobra armed
          1. How many rockets
          2. How many rounds for each mini gun
          3. How many rounds for each 40mm grenade launcher
        2. How does each section react with each other
          1. Describe the purpose of the 2 minute section
          2. Describe the purpose of the 5 minute section
          3. Describe the purpose of the 15 minute section
          4. Describe the purpose of the standby section
      2. What happens when the section goes "Hot"
      3. How is the "Fire Mission Handled"
        1. What are the pilots able to see once "on target"
        2. What happens if the Artillery Pilots in the Cobras need more firepower
        3. What happens if additional Cobra support is needed.
        4. What happens when the mission is over
      4. What other kinds of missions does your battalion support
        1. Escorting Hueys
        2. Clearing LZs
        3. Pepper entrenched enemy with CS gas
        4. Flying CCNs out of Quang Tri (Probably can't do this since its not public domain)

And that is how the  The 4/77th Aerial Rocket Artillery Story landed a spot in the 101st Airborne Division's Rendezvous With Destiny in the fall of 1970.

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