Sunday, November 11, 2007

John Wagner ’84: A Skip Leabo memory

The memorial for Skip Leabo is today in Austin. John wrote this for the family and kindly permits it to be published here too:

Given the tremendous number of hours I worked in Reed McDonald and my poor academic performance (no doubt the two are linked), I have thankfully forgotten much from my college days.

But I do remember a headline writing lab with the late, great Skip Leabo in which we had to hand-write (and count) our heds as if we were working the night shift at an old-time newspaper. We met in the Battalion newsroom (I was usually already there) and Professor Leabo worked as the “editor,” handing down AP stories to his “assistants” and requiring us to turn around snappy headlines quickly.

He was tough as nails and quick to throw back any headline that either didn't fit perfectly or didn't convey the right message. I remember dreading that class because it was very difficult. But I sure learned a lot and it prepared me for my first real job, where I spent many a night writing headlines.

Of course, in that job we had terminals that determined whether our choice words would fit … and we could even change the size a point or two to make that prize-winner squeeze in.

The Battalion had those, as well. But Professor Leabo knew that making us count by hand was teaching us to use our minds and our creativity. And he was right.

I learned a lot from journalism professors like Skip Leabo … lessons that continue to serve me well today, two decades later. Confidence. Discipline. The willingness to think beyond the obvious.

And yes, how to write a headline. And make it fit!