The three levels of speechwriting

Are your speeches more akin to open-pit mining, investigative reporting or a mountaintop sermon?

Pushing words around as if my life depends on it began in earnest on a windy, rainy Monday in September 1961 in ivy-covered Fisk Hall’s Room 111 at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

It was Day 1 of Beginning Reporting. Outside, the wet and windy remnants of Hurricane Carla, a weakened Category 5 from the Texas Gulf Coast, rattled the 8-foot windows. Rare Lake Michigan surf boomed and broke on the rocky shore below.

Inside, we wordsmith wannabes, barely 90 days out of high school, battered our rugged carriage-shift Underwoods as a veteran Chicago Tribune editor straight out of “Front Page” (he actually covered Capone!) lashed us with the rudimentary 5 Ws.

I was a skinny, arrogant, ambitious 17-year-old, driven to be a newsman. Medill was my Mecca. Fisk 111, down a dim hall hallowed by a few dozen survivors who won Pulitzers, is where I learned that I had to write before I could report.

That was so long ago my teenaged granddaughter Devan is nearly as old as I was then. But here I am, still a reporter at heart, still making a living at the keyboard, this time as a rhetorician, still practicing the basics acquired in Fisk 111.

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