WORLD Magazine / Telling the Truth / Appendix A
Line-by-Line Editing: Example

NEXT » Appendix B: McDowall's Defense of Biblical Sensationalism

« PREVIOUS Journalistic Ethics in an Era of Subjectivity

Thorough "line editing" means examining every detail in a story and raising questions. The following is an article submitted by a World writer and the questions about it raised by managing editor Nick Eicher.

Country music was once the soul of the blue-collar, pick-up driving, tobacco-spitting,[1] mostly rural segment of our society. Or at least that was the way it was portrayed. There have been songs within country music that have poked fun at the stereotype of "I wound up in prison and my mom got hit by a train on Christmas day" type [2] of song that typified the genre.

Now country music has more of a polish to it. [3] And the sound has changed. Gone, for the most part, is the twang. In its place are bands and artists that sound more like Eagles or James Taylor. In fact, if those artists were to have emerged today, they would most likely have been signed by a country label rather than a pop/rock one. [4]

And for the Christians that[5] listen to the radio shows besides Rush and Dobson, country music offers an alternative to Christian music that often promotes family values and can even sometimes praise our God outright.

Not that honky-tonks have been abolished from country lyrics, but a significant number of artists are now releasing music classified[6] as "positive country." And within that are several Christians that[7] are taking uncompromised Christian lyrics to a mass audience and going all the way to the top of the charts with it.

[8]Many country artists will claim a relationship of some sort with God. It is more common than not at the country awards shows to hear an artist give his creator credit. And most of those will release a song here and there that Christians go crazy about. But few of those artists actually make it a consistent part of their music. Except, that is, for Paul Overstreet.

Overstreet has released three albums over the last five years on country labels that have all been picked up by Word Records to release to the Christian market as well. And while Overstreet is a country artist, his faith in God pervades all that he writes. And that is, very consciously, his desire. [9]

He has been asked by country record labels, "Is this country music, or is this Christian?" His response, "I don’t separate the two. I create country music. That’s what I do. But my faith comes before that, so any music I do would have to be under the person of Jesus Christ."

One result of this is that Overstreet fills a niche that other Christian artists have so far not been able to touch. He has considered signing with Christian labels in the past, but has found that God has placed him where he is for a very specific purpose. If he were on a Christian label, he’d be just another Christian artist, probably just reaching a Christian audience.[10] Looking at Paul Overstreet’s career today, it seems very clear why God chose him[11] as his messenger. Overstreet is one of the most successful songwriters in country music history. Before releasing his own albums, he wrote smash hits like "Forever and Ever," "Amen" and "Deeper than the Holler" for Randy Travis, "Love Can Build a Bridge" for the Judds, and "The Battle Hymn of Love" for Kathy Matea. He has a total of 13 songs that have made it to #1 on the charts[12] and many more that have made it to the top ten.

In reality, his career has been a long road and God’s hand is evident[13] on the life of this songwriter in many different ways.

He moved to Nashville from Mississippi in 1973 to try to make it in the music business. His first desire was to be a performer and not a writer, though. He played in bands for several[14] years, spending many nights out on the road[15] playing at bar after bar. That lifestyle got old quick for Overstreet. "I just couldn’t stand to be there unless I was drunk. So I drank a lot. And I knew that was pretty rough on me." Finally Overstreet got to the point one night in a club that he prayed, "Lord, if you’ll get me out of these clubs, I’ll quit drinking."

A few months later, Paul[16] got a job as a writer for one of the music publishing companies. Later he would see that God was answering his prayer. But he didn’t stop drinking at the time. If anything, it got heavier. [17]

One day[18] Paul found himself in a deep conversation with some of the guys[19] he worked with. He wanted to know if they believed in God. Most of them didn’t. But, he says, "I did believe in God. At least I said I did. And in my heart, somewhere way back in there, I still did believe, and I told them that. I said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and that he came to die for my sins.’ And I’m saying this, but life is like this. And I heard this guy[20] going, ‘Well, I believe that this life is all there is.’ And that caused me to examine my life, I looked at this other guy’s life, and my life was in worse shape than his!"

That was when a big change took place in Overstreet’s life. [21]He went to a store[22] and bought a Bible and started to read–from the beginning. "I thought, if I get through Genesis, I’ll have it made! And I did."

Eventually, [23] in 1984, Overstreet committed his life to Christ. "I laid it all on the altar. I was ready to give up music if that’s what He wanted. And that was a major step for me. Up until then, I would never have been able to do that. It was a sacrifice–like Abraham and Isaac." [24]

Another issue Overstreet confronted was alcohol. He had never given up drinking. "Then I remembered that promise I had made God, in that nightclub. And I read somewhere in the Bible that it is better to not make a promise to God than to make a promise and break it. And when I read that, it scared me to death."

When he gave up alcohol, he found a renewed energy to write. [25] And that’s when the career took off. He had had one hit record, "Same Old Me," by George Jones, up to this point. [26] Since 1985, there are few that can claim success equal to Overstreets. [27]

Despite all of his success, [28] Overstreet can tell you a lot about the struggle of being a Christian in a secular industry. Just after becoming a Christian, he started playing in a group called SKO, which stands for the last names of the members of the group, Thom Schuyler, Fred Knocbloch and Overstreet. This soon became difficult. Overstreet explains, "As a group, in country music, we were going this way, which was the way of country music. [29] But my heart was being pulled over to do something a little different, something that had a witness to it." So he left that group to try to find his version of something "different."

He went to several[30] of the Christian labels to talk to them about doing an album. But none were [31] interested. And during the meantime, his writing career was flourishing[32] in country music. So Overstreet finally made a realization: Stay in country music, change the way you write.

"I used to write all sad songs. And then I realized that the Scripture says, ‘As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,’ and ‘Woe to him who sings a sad heart a sad song.’ So I said, ‘Well, there’s two good reasons to try to write something different.’"

Shortly after this, Overstreet launched his own solo country career with the album, Sowin’ Love. This seems to be when everything finally clicked[33] for him. He had struggled to find a voice for his message. With Sowin’ Love, "I found that a lot of people got encouraged by that album. And it really touched a lot of people. Because the songs were real. They were things that my heart felt." [34]

To some extent, Overstreet’s struggle had found a resting place. But that didn’t last for long. His label, MTM, sold his contract[35] to RCA, and the struggle began once again.

Many[36] in radio told him, "We love the kind of stuff you’re doing, we want to play it." But others were "not compassionate towards my faith. There are people that just don’t want anything that’s going to be preachy or a message or anything. Just give us some partying kind of music." Unfortunately, that is the stance RCA took.

"They were trying to change me. [37] [That] takes some of the message out of my songs, and that ruins me. If I take away the message and songs that I think encourage people who are trying to live a life that’s godly, then it’s like trying to take the salty taste out of salt. What good is it? And that’s what I felt was happening. I felt like I was having to become a man pleaser more than doing what God was telling me."

After recording two more albums[38] with RCA, Overstreet finally decided to leave. He had been pulled away from the direction he had with Sowin’ Love, and now wants to get back to that. [39]

He explains his decision like this: "Radio can do what they want to. They can quit playing your records or they can play them, but I think you’re going to be better off as long as you are true to your heart. If you are true to your heart and they don’t play the records, then there is still something there to rejoice about. But if you compromise what’s in your heart, and they still don’t play your records, oh, then, you can really kick yourself around awhile." He says this painfully, with a clear impression[40] that he has walked that road.

It is difficult to understand why any label would have a problem with the result Overstreet had from Sowin’ Love.[41] The album had four songs reach the top 5 on the country charts.

Either way, Overstreet doesn’t fault RCA. He faults only himself for ever agreeing to change at all.

Now Overstreet has a clear understanding of exactly what he wants to do. He doesn’t have a label right now, but expects to sign with one by the end of the year[42] and turn out another album shortly after that. When he does sign, one thing is clear, "I’m not going to sign with a label that is afraid for me to have serious songs."

In the meantime, Paul and his wife Julie have their hands full with their five kids, all of whom they are homeschooling. [43] Overstreet didn’t go to the Dove Awards last month, where he won best country song of the year, because he wanted to be at his kid’s[44] T-ball game.

NEXT » Appendix B: McDowall's Defense of Biblical Sensationalism
« PREVIOUS Journalistic Ethics in an Era of Subjectivity
Questions & Comments
1 tobacco-chewing, sted tobacco-spitting

2 Is that line from an actual song? If not, find one and use it. Overall, for the lead graf, I would suggest starting with a quote from one of those ridiculous songs, then picking up with "Country music was once the soul of . . ." and reworking the last sentence along these lines: Some country songs have even parodied the divorcin', boozin' [or whatever is appropriate from the actual song you quote above] type of lyrics that typified the genre.

3 Now country music is more polished.

4 Can you attribute that statement to someone? How do you know?

5 who, sted that.

6 Who does this classifying?

7 Who, sted that.

8 I would reverse the order of the two paragraphs beginning "Not that honkytonks . . ." and "Many country artists . . .", and moving the reference to Paul Overstreet to the "honky-tonks" graf: " . . . to the top of the charts with it. Paul Overstreet is one of those who's made it to the top."

9 Delete the whole sentence.

10 Overstreet's statement or yours? It's better if it's his. If it's yours, delete it.

11 Who's your source for this statement?

12 Which charts? Billboard?

13 Does Overstreet acknowledge this? If so, say so.

14 How many?

15 Was he married at this point? (Overstreet's wife is mentioned only in the last paragraph. Did he not talk about her and her influence on his life? If there is information about her, I think that's important to the development of this story.)

16 Always use "Overstreet," not "Paul."

17 Why? Needs more specific detail.

18 Where are we in the chronology?

19 Who? Where did he work?

20 Who?

21 Does Overstreet acknowledge that conversation as the turning point in his life?

22 Which store? If you don't know, delete the reference and just say, "He bought a Bible and started to read . . ."

23 About how much time elapsed between the purchase of thc Bible and his acceptance of Christ?

24 How did he know God didn't want him to give up music?

25 How long did it take to go from alcoholic stupor to renewed energy? llow long from renewed energy to career taking off?

26 Put a date on "this point."

27 Overstreet's. Name a few of those who can claim success equal to Overstreet's, i.e. "Only Johnny Cash and the Judds can claim success equal to Overstreet's." Then, quantify his success.

28 What success? You've only mentioned one hit record.

29 What is "the way of country music"? That needs to be explained.

30 Which labels?

31 was, sted were.

32 Specific detail needed. Specify what you mean by "flourishing."

33 Does Overstreet acknowledge this? Attribute it to him, if that is the case.

34 Quote from some of his lyrics to the songs in order to show his writing style, how his faith in Christ transformed his ability to write.

35 Why?

36 Who? Which stations?

37 How? What did RCA do or say?

38 Did those albums reflect man-pleasing lyrics? Ouote some to show the difference.

39 What's his plan to "get back to that"?

40 Specific detail.

41 Too much editorializing.

42 What is the basis for his confidence in that assertion?

43 Any details of Overstreet's home life? Does Overstreet teach the children? Which subjects? What art the ages of the children? What are his convictions on home education?

44 Which kid?