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Yesterday was the final class session of my editing course at Loyola University Maryland. Feeling impelled to make some final remarks, I told my students something along these lines:

The kind of writing and editing we do today, writing informed by the traditions and conventions of journalism, has its roots in the eighteenth century, when an emerging middle class began to achieve and flex political power. It was also the time, by no coincidence, that newspapers began to come into their own, writing for that emerging middle class.

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The service our writing and editing performs, at its best, is hinted at in something that Alexander Hamilton wrote in the first number of The Federalist: "It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force."

That is, what Hamilton, Washington, Adams, and Jefferson believed is that an educated, literate populace was competent to make its own decisions out of "reflection and choice." Journalism is what provides the basis of that reflection and choice, not just in politics and government, but in great and small things. We rely on journalism to make choices about where we go to dine out and what show we see afterward, what neighborhoods we choose to live in, what goods we buy, what we do to maintain our health and the health and well-being of our children, as well as whom we choose to govern us.

For this to work, the information the public receives has to be accurate, and it has to be clear. Accuracy and clarity in writing are the product of editing, first the self-editing that the writer does, then in the clear-eyed look that the editor casts over the text. That is your fundamental responsibility to the reader, to provide reliable, honest, accurate, clear information to enable the reader to make informed choices in daily life.

I have been laboring at this task for thirty-five years. I am sixty-four years old. I am not the future. You—God save the Republic—are the future. The things you have learned here, the beginning you have made at the craft, you will be able to take with you, put to use, and develop over time. And in doing so, you will fulfill your responsibilities not only as writers and editors, but as citizens.

So go.

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