September 16, 1997 / Copywriting / Coverage / Fall 1997

Dispelling the Myth

Written by Crystal Kazmierski

Good Stories Result From Focused Angles, Solid Reporting, Hard Work

The old saying is that a good story will write itself. That is a myth. Really good stories, regardless of the topic, are the result of a focused angle, in-depth interviews and a creative writing style. Take a look at the following two examples of a personality profile written about a high school custodian. Although they were both written about the same individual, they were obviously the result of different reporting styles.

1Mr. Kevin Aley began working here as a custodian in 1990. During that time he has been responsible for keeping the school running smoothly, both inside and out. His job entails detailed clean-up of the campus, as well as continued repairs. While he puts in many hours behind the scenes, he still finds time to do the things he enjoys.

Mr. Aley took art and industrial arts classes in college. It is no wonder that in his free time he enjoys drawing cartoons or tinkering with wood. He was instrumental in helping the drama department complete the sets for the fall play.

“We could not have done it without him. He really helped us a lot. The play would not have been nearly as successful without the time and effort he put into designing the backdrops,” said Jessie Maxwell.

“I like working with the kids,” said Mr. Aley. “It helps break up my day and gives me a chance to get to know them a little bit.”1b

Mr. Aley enjoys his relationship with the students. As sponsor of the Ski Club, Mr. Aley took 19 students to Brianhead, Utah, over the winter break.

“It was fun, even though I got stuck driving the bus,” said Mr. Aley.

Probably Mr. Aley’s favorite past-time is surfing. He has been surfing since he was in high school.

“I may not be as young as I used to be, but I still love crashing around in the waves,” he said.

He took several students to the beach during the spring and taught them the basics.

“He is really cool. Everybody likes him,” said Marilyn Nicodemi.

2“Here’s my chair of honor,” he says as he slaps the top of a plastic seat, which appears to have once been yellow. At first glance, his “office” looks like the aftermath of a tornado, despite the fact that he boasts to having just cleaned it. A massive cluster of keys jingles from his back pocket as he threatens a hapless gum-chewer. His presence is unmistakable.

But what about the man behind the long trench coat and brown cowboy hat? The one who is not making boisterous announcements over the P.A. or busting trespassers in the hall? What about the side he does not make public? Kevin Aley’s true personality is captured in his shop – rusty rakes and shovels amidst strains of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

“I enjoy classical music very much because it’s romantic,” Aley said. And then with a smile he added: “I can picture the knight in shining armor saving the damsel in distress.” Wait a second! Deep down, could he really be the romantic type?

“Classical music appeals to the emotional side of me,” he said. “I was an art major when I bounced around in college. I enjoy art because it’s therapeutic. I do have some natural talent. I even built a round house to live in, which is an extension of my artistic endeavor. I’m good at it, but not great.”

So with the stress of broken heaters and plumbing problems, did he have a canvas lurking around here somewhere?2b

“I hide at lunch to get away from the chaos of my job,” he admitted. “I made the policy that I had to go off campus for lunch. Sometimes I feel like the little boy in the dike, trying to put his fingers in all the holes in so many places. It wears on me.

“One time, I was really ready to quit and I ran across the passage in the Bible that talks about ‘finishing the race.’ I know I am supposed to be here. And I do love you kids,” he said sincerely, his voice muting the static coming from his walkie-talkie.

“I have an impact with kids because I’m approachable. I’ve made a million mistakes in my life, which has given me empathy for those who are having a hard time or struggling with things. I can relate to them. They think, ‘Mr. Aley – I can talk to him.’ I have kids come to me with all kinds of things.

“My goal is that if I can make one kid make a right move instead of a wrong one, make one less mistake each year, then my job is a success. Even though they drive me crazy, I want to see them succeed. It’s all part of the game, kind of like a parent relationship thing. If not for the kids, I wouldn’t be here.”

Truthfully, how did his present position match up to his youthful dreams?

“I’ll admit that the goals I had when I was younger were typical – big car, fancy house – I always wanted success. But it’s different now. Sure, I’d still like those things, but not as much as helping kids, or having a good relationship with my wife.

“This year I’ve been dealing with being okay with myself. Sometimes it’s hard to swallow. I can get down on myself because I’m ‘just a janitor,’ but on the other hand, a kid is crying on my shoulder because of a parent problem, and I see it differently. I’m learning to live with who I am supposed to be.”

His life meshes classic with coarse – sensitivity with sternness kind of like the tango between a symphony and a wet mop.

Loud and unpretentious, he concludes, “I’m a jerk, but I’m a likable jerk.”

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Crystal Kazmierski

With a background in commercial art, Crystal Kazmierski advises the Wings yearbook at Arrowhead Christian Academy in Redlands, California, and teaches design and photography at journalism workshops and conventions across the country. Under Crystal’s guidance, Wings has received multiple CSPA Gold Crown and NSPA Pacemaker awards; including winning a Yearbook Pacemaker 18 times in the last 19 years. Crystal is also the author of Finding Your Theme, a unit in Walsworth’s Yearbook Suite curriculum.