Koterba on Koterba: Ed Koterba describes his own journalistic writing

In my last blog, I used the words of people who knew Ed Koterba to describe his subject matter and writing style. But what did Ed Koterba have to say about his own writing? Below is my father’s response to a query from an Ohio man who wanted to know what there was to write about in Washington other than politics:

This question capsuled the apparent misunderstanding of most outsiders who consider Washington merely as a city encased in a cold hard shell of politics and government. Those who have the opportunity to peek under this impersonal, heavy crust of political manifestations, find to their amazement an “oddly average” touch of humanness. They find this great federal city of famous names throbbing with the same everyday drama found in the little crossroads village of Podunk Valley, Ohio.

There was a time when we, too, were set agog by the aura of untouchableness that came with the mention of a big name out of Washington. If he was a national figure in politics, he must be somebody of another world. Something about him (or her) set him aside as purely different. He was Washington, and Washington therefore was politics. It was with amusement and enlightenment, not disillusionment, that we gradually learned to see the informal, average side of Washington life—that which we like to write about . . . . Washington isn’t all politics. It’s just as human as that little village out in Ohio.

On a few other occasions, my father took the liberty of analyzing his own writing style. In a speech to the Shippensburg, Pennsylvania News Chronicle staff at their annual Christmas party in 1955, he told his newspaper friends that “I write like I talk—just plain, and perhaps not too intelligently—but I figure if I get a story or message across, the battle is won.” In a 1955 interview with Editor and Publisher, my father believed that his success as a writer came because of his simple style. “I try to write,” he said, “as if I’m talking to my reader across the backyard fence.” In a later 1960 interview with Editor and Publisher, he again reflected on his reporting style—a style that he said reports the lighter side of national events, yet still has news reporting as the core. In commenting about what editors are looking for in their papers, my father said, “Editors like meat and potatoes with their honey and spice. If my column can be humorous, that’s the first priority. But if it doesn’t have some enlightening bit of news, it doesn’t get across.”

The content and style of Ed Koterba’ writing truly set him apart from other journalists of his era, and hopefully will provide inspiration to current and future journalists. The book The Essential Ed Koterba contains 363 of his articles. Readers will soon discover why Ed Koterba was one of our nation’s most beloved journalists of the 1950s.

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