From the files of Jon Huisman: How I became a photojournalist at the Lansing Journal

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Local Voices

Jon Huisman, former staff member at the original Lansing Journal

This post is a continuation of Jon Huisman’s earlier Local Voices pieces, which began with “How I joined the Lansing Journal,” (published January 9, 2021).

After some time at the Daily Calumet, I returned to the Lansing Journal in 1963. My bosses were Jere (like Jerry) Hagen and, later, Ed Washak. Hagen was the retired Saturday/Sunday editor of the Chicago Herald American newspaper. He knew the business well. After a few weeks he said to me, “Jon, since you’re covering events with your camera, why don’t you write the story too? You can write, can’t you?”– or something much like that. That was my invitation to become a photojournalist.

My first opportunity arrived when the Don Roberts Beauty Parlor/School in Calumet City was doing a 50-mile hike as a publicity stunt. President Kennedy had popularized 50-mile hikes and had done many of them. It was a national craze, a fitness challenge, if you will. So the Don Roberts women from a sister school/beauty shop were going to hike from north of Evanston, Illinois, to Calumet City — a measured 50-mile distance — to be like the president. Normally, I as photographer would be at the finish in Calumet City to make a picture of the final crossing of the line, and someone else later would contact the organization and write the story. Jere Hagen sent me to do both — photograph and write, saving money and time. First time I had ever tried to write something and get paid for it.

I wrote the story — a 400+-word piece — and turned it in to Jere. He said, “Good,” crumpled it up, and said, “Do it again. No specifics, no advice, just “do it again.” I did, making some changes that I thought might make it acceptable. No way. He crumpled up the second effort. “Do it again.” I clearly remember the third try was somehow acceptable. No “good job” or “atta boy,” just an OK. That was my intro to factual ordinary newswriting. I learned by doing — literally. I did look at other stories written by seasoned professionals and picked up techniques here and there and had heard other tips and advice from reporters I had been with, but this was my first actual printed story — and with a byline to boot. I was now a photojournalist, sort of.

I hadn’t taken Newswriting 101 at University, but I learned to write a good lead ad a second-day angle, and I learned to trim paragraphs at the end of a good story. I learned objectivity and the extent to which that is realistically possible, and lots of other newswriting and editing techniques. I wrote obits, sports stories of all kinds, hard news, soft news, feature stories, human interest, photo stories — all that was expected — all while being also the only photographer.

Over time 2.25×2.25 roll film was replaced by 35mm. That was the camera/format of the middle 1960s. I bought film in 100-foot rolls and loaded my own cartridges with as many shots as was handy for me — usually 15–20. A wide variety of focal length lenses added a versatility not possible with 4×5″ or the 2.25 formats.

I also learned copy editing, headline writing, and page design. All with hands on and some coarse “do it overs” from veteran “teachers.” I also wrote a “Two Cents Worth” column weekly, asking (and photographing) people on the street their opinion on a local issue. For their contribution they got a thank-you card from the Journal with two pennies taped central on the card. We used their “two cents” worth, and they were paid.

As time went on, people came and went at the Journal. Jere Hagen retired, replaced by Ed Washak, now Editor in Chief. Ray Bachar was Sports Editor, Charlie Doehrer was General Editor, Diane Kukral (a senior at TF South High School) was Women’s Page Editor, and I was photographer, writer, engraver, and Lansing page one editor.

(To be continued…)

Jon Huisman

Installments from the files of Jon Huisman:


Local Voices is our version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writers, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Send your submissions to The Lansing Journal with “Voices” in the subject line.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I also remember Larry Thornton, and Don Clark. Don wrote sports news before I did. Everywhere I went, people were asking about him during my first week on the job. He was very much appreciated by everybody.

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