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Crosscut: Incubating an ecosystem of citizen journalists

Judy Lightfoot

When I wanted my students to think about how their essays were organized, I’d tell them the sequence of thoughts that unfolded in my mind as, sentence by sentence, I absorbed a page of a paper submitted. During one such conference, a student exclaimed, “Wow, you actually read my writing!”

He didn't mean he thought I used the stairway method of evaluating papers: scattering them down a flight of steps and giving A’s to the ones landing at the top. His belief had been that an English teacher’s job was to glance over student papers in order to mark specific surface features and deduct points for errors. He’d never expected his teachers to try to receive and understand his ideas.

I loved helping this student and others grow their powers of thinking on paper to the point where they felt like “real” writers with ideas, reaching out to other minds. Instead of drafting and revising to meet a teacher’s checklist of academic or technical demands, their job was to discover what they wanted to say about a topic and how to say it as tellingly as possible. At the same time, I was writing with the same goals and publishing my work – mostly articles about curriculum and instruction, plus a little poetry.

Writing for Crosscut is a different world, of course. I’m not addressing a narrow group of professional colleagues or muttering musically to myself. I have a diverse audience of people who really read writers. Their comments often draw on such high levels of reasoning and evidence they sharpen and advance a writer’s original argument, to the point where the comments become essential endnotes to a story.

Exchanges between readers and writers play an essential part in any writer’s continuing growth – after the sting of appearing inadequate or wrong in a public space subsides, at any rate. With the help of our spirited readers, and with editors par excellence Joe Copeland and Berit Anderson keeping our stings to a minimum while bringing out the shine in our style, Crosscut writers, including our many journalists with years of experience, continue to grow. 

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