The Teachings of Mr. Elmer

image source: Nic McPhee

Image source: Flickr user Nic McPhee

The six of us sat around the dinner table in his spacious apartment. Mr. Elmer treated us, his journalism students, to lunch before we went on our separate ways. We were the last graduating class as Mohawk College was phasing out the journalism program. For a few hours, the demure professor played the host competently.

On a typical school day, we sat around the editor’s desk in the Journalism Department. Patiently, Mr. Elmer picked through each of our stories. With a red ink pen, he circled every flaw and crossed out every redundancy. He did it thoroughly and with great care. He then gave us back our work for review. Next time we met he would collect our stories and put them in respective student files he kept in his office.

In 1975, Mr. Elmer returned to our college after a study tour of several schools of journalism in North America. The Journalism class of 35 dwindled to six after the program cancellation announcement. Throughout the final year, the tone of his voice remained impressively energetic and encouraging.

In 1983, I sat at the editor’s desk at the Hong Kong Standard, one of the two English dailies in the British colony. The editor-in-chief yelled at his staff every time he spotted a mistake in our stories. We became rattled. Mr. Casey left us in the dark about exactly what changes he wanted. “What would Mr. Elmer expect his reporters to do in a similar situation?” I wondered.

It was in the mid-1990s, the project team and I gathered around a conference table to hash over the outstanding issues before we were ready to launch the first ever corporate web site. No one was an Internet veteran and everyone tried to learn from the browser technology. Some developers used the term, homepage, which bothered me a great deal. I argued that we must not use a paper term for electronic communication. Paper gave the wrong idea of what the browser was truly capable. I was able to convince the team.

I know I owe my language sensitivity to Mr Elmer.  I suppose he is now retired after a lifelong career working at news offices dominated by the presence of Underwood and IBM Selectric. At Mohawk, we used IBM typewriters.

Times are changing rather rapidly in the past decade during which digital and mobile technologies are pushing out the printing press. In any event, what Mr. Elmer shared so generously with the last graduating class of Journalism remains timeless. I continue to think of him as one of a few teachers who play a part in shaping the way I am.

Andrew Chan– Andrew Chan
Communications Arts, ’78


Author’s Note: I’d like to invite you to read my daily blog at www.lifetorium.com.  Sharing our knowledge and experience truthfully helps us live meaningfully and happily.

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