Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Do What You Love

“[Thomas] Moran, who made his decision to leave journalism partly as a way of looking after his kids—Patrick, 15, Gracie, 12—realized he was setting a bad example. ‘You should do what you love, and I don’t think they enjoyed living with me moping around because I was miserable,’ he said, adding, ‘I mean, what was I going to do for fun--take up cooking and model trains?”

David Carr, media columnist, The New York Times, (9/13/09)
(Thanks to alert WORDster Alexandra Halsey)

Editor’s Note: “Miserable journalist”? Is that redundant? BTW, Alert WORDster Lynda Hurst of The Toronto Star has a nice tribute to that old nabob, Bill Safire. Click here.

• • •

Monday, September 28, 2009


William Safire (1929-2009), Nabob

Editor’s Note: I don’t worry about his politics. Anyone who can care about the appropriate use of “wackadoodle” and language and life in general—as Safire did—is OK with me. Bill Safire died yesterday. He wrote for Nixon and The New York Times. Both. Go figger. He also brought “nabobs” and alliteration to the hoi poloi. Says Cokie Roberts on NPR: “Someone who could disagree without being disagreeable.”

Safire offered this useful writing advice

1. No sentence fragments.

2. It behooves us to avoid archaisms.

3. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.

4. Don't use no double negatives.

5. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, “Resist hyperbole!”

6. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.

7. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

8. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

9. Writing carefully, dangling participles should not be used.

10. Kill all exclamation points!!!

11. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

12. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

13. Take the bull by the hand and don’t mix metaphors.

14. Don’t verb nouns.

15. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

16. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.

—William Safire (1929-2009),
Pulitzer Prize-winner, wordguy, presidential speechifier and columnist.
And curmudgeon.

“Curmudgeon,” Safire said, means, “a likeably irascible old man.”

Friday, September 25, 2009


Editor’s Note: It’s been a busy week, so a little relaxation from the Master heading into the weekend. Enjoy.

Sam Clemens Speaks . . .

• On writing: “Plain clarity is better than ornate obscurity.” (1900 letter to an editor)
• On editing: “You really must get your mind out and have it repaired.” (same year, same editor....)
• On authorities: “Ecclesiastical and military courts—made up of cowards, hypocrites and time-servers—can be bred at the rate of a million a year and have material left over; but it takes five centuries to breed a Joan of Arc and a Zola.” (1935)
• To an editor he respected: “Slash it, with entire freedom; the more you slash, the better I like it.” (to William Dean Howells, 1881)
• On originality: “The thought is nothing—it has occurred to everybody; so has every thought that is worth fame. The expression of it is the thing to applaud...” (margin notes, Modern English Literature: Its Blemishes and Defects, 1857)
• and... “What a good thing Adam had—when he said a good thing he knew nobody had said it before.”
• Finally.... “When I am king, they shall not have bread and shelter only, but also teachings out of books, for a full belly is little worth where the mind is starved.” (The Prince and the Pauper, 1881)

Note: In a recent Twain credit line I referred to him as a curmudgeon. This drew a little complaint, on the basis of the fact that “curmudgeon” is defined in the dictionary as a disagreeable sort of person. But for me, “curmudgeon” is a term of praise (as it must be after 30 years as a teacher). So, like Twain, I eschew the timid and accepted definition in favor of, as Humpty-Dumpty would say, words meaning what I want them to mean. That’s probably bad precedent for my students, but there you are. So on reflection, I still think Twain is a curmudgeon, in the best sense of the word.
~ ~ ~

Thursday, September 24, 2009

George Whositz

Freedom & Ign’nrce

“About 92 percent of the people who take the citizenship test pass on their first try, according to [U.S.] immigration service data. However, Oklahoma students did not fare as well. Only about 3 percent of the students surveyed would have passed the citizenship test.

“[Conservative thinktank Strategic Visions’ Brandon] Dutcher said this is not just a problem in Oklahoma. He said Arizona had similar results, which left him concerned for the entire country.

“‘Jefferson later said that a nation can’t expect to be ignorant and free,’ Dutcher said. ‘It points to a real serious problem. We’re not going to remain ignorant and free.’”

—News9 report, “75 Percent of Oklahoma High School Students Can’t Name the First President of the U.S.,” Oklahoma City 9/1/09 (Click here for story and links.)

Editor’s Note: Wait! Joe Washburn, right?

Of 1,000 Oklahoma high school kids, only six could answer only four or more questions correctly; 46 (4.6%) couldn’t answer any.

(1,000 Oklahoma high school kids’ correct answers in parentheses):
• What is the supreme law of the land? (28%)
• What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution? (26%)
• What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress? (27%)
• How many justices are there on the Supreme Court? (10%)
• Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? (14%)
• What ocean is on the east coast of the United States? (61% yay!)
• What are the two major political parties in the United States? (43%)
• We elect a U.S. senator for how many years? (11%)
• Who was the first president of the United States? (23%)
• Who is in charge of the executive branch? (29%)
See the answers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Beats Workin’

“Journalists, for all their self-importance, are often a little naïve about the way the real world works. Sure, being a newsie is a grind, the hours are not great and the public holds us in lower esteem than the women who work the poles at Satin Dolls down the road from the Tick Tock in Lodi, [NJ], but it beats working by a mile. Every day is a caper, and most reporters are attention-deprived adrenaline junkies who care only for the next story. Journalists are like cops, hugging the job close and savoring the rest of their life as they can.”
—David Carr, media columnist, The New York Times, (9/13/09)
(Thanks to alert WORDster Alexandra Halsey) (Click here for column.)

Editor’s Note: Put some capers on that.

Overheard in the Newsroom #1827:

News editor to reporter, on when the interns show up: “You’re going to have to seem more astute.”


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

W. Horace Carter, Newspaperman (1921-2009)

Wanted: More Voice of Reason

“He was a God-and-country kind of guy. But he was committed to social justice, and he was not prepared for the fact that other people didn’t see it that way. . . . He acknowledged being scared, especially for his family. But he was a newspaperman.”
—Russell Carter, about his father,
Walter Horace C
arter (1921-2009),
editor of The Tabor (N.C.) City Tribune, which won the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1953 for Carter’s opposition to the Ku Klux Klan.
Carter died yesterday at 88. (Click here for obit.)
(Thanks to alert WORDster Andrew Merton)

• From the New York Times obit:
“The Tabor City Tribune
was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service, which it shared with another local paper nearby . . . . The citation read: ‘For their successful campaign against the Ku Klux Klan, waged on their own doorstep at the risk of economic loss and personal danger, culminating in the conviction of over one hundred Klansmen and an end to terrorism in their communities.’”

Editor’s Note: I hope they put that walk-off on my stone . . . .

Monday, September 21, 2009

Healthy Constitution?

How We Know What We Know

“Americans still support the idea of a free press as a watchdog on government, and turn to traditional news sources on major news stories despite skepticism about bias in the news media . . . . Television was the first source for major news stories for about half of all responding (49%), followed by the Internet at 15%, radio at 13% and newspapers at 10%—which places traditional news media (TV, radio and newspapers) as the first source for 72% of Americans. Twitter, e-mails and social-networking sites each were named by 1% of those responding. Similarly, for 48% of Americans TV is the primary source for followup reports on those news stories, followed by the Internet at 29% and newspapers at 9%.”
—Freedom Forum 13th State of the First Amendment survey,
released for National Constitution Day (9/17/09)

Editor’s Note: My gramma always said she had a healthy Constitution. Me, not as much....

Meanwhile, Uncle Jay Explains the News. This week’s word: Civility?

And Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Deadening Silence

Step Up, J-Schools!

“[J]ournalism schools are not adequately engaged with the great public debates over the future of their core sector. Business school educators are regularly interviewed on NPR or in national business magazines about the state of business education, and its contribution to the crisis in confidence in business ethics and economic performance. Medical school professors are similarly engaged with their relevant publics. Not so with journalism teachers.

“Yet arguably, the performance of journalism schools has something to do with the current sub-par performance of the profession. And the performance of journalists working in independent, high quality media has a lot to do with the fate of our American democracy.

“As journalism professors and deans set their priorities for 2009-2010, the invisibility of J-schools should be near the top of our agenda, otherwise we risk paying a terrible price for our inattention to the big picture beyond our classrooms.”
—Ernest J. Wilson III
Dean, Annenberg School for Communication
University of Southern California
August 2009
(Click here.)

Editor’s Note: Them’s as can, do. Them’s as can’t, teach? Right? Bullshit.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers, 1936-2009

Blowin’ in the Wind

“Sometimes we have to sort of re-examine classical values. Caring about one another, helping each other, wanting a better, safer world--those are values that haven’t changed for thousands of years. . . . I have a sort of sampler in my head that—paraphrasing the rabbinical scholar—says, ‘It’s not your duty to finish the task, it is your duty not to neglect it.’ If war and hunger and racism were easy things to get rid of, I would assume we would have gotten rid of them already. . . . The nice thing about folk music is that if you don’t get it today, it’ll wait for you. The music has power; that’s why it survives. It just has to be passed on.”
—Mary Travers (1936-2009), folksinger, one-third of Peter, Paul & Mary.
(Click here for obit.)


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tell Me What I Already Think!


“ST. PETERSBURG, FL — Conservatives watch Fox news. Liberals watch MSNBC. According to veteran television journalist Ted Koppel, Americans are increasingly choosing news outlets that they believe match their own opinions. Koppel . . . said Americans feel like they are entitled to this type of news. It could spell disaster for the country, he said, much like Americans’ sense of entitlement to wealth led to the current financial crisis. ‘I think we have gone totally nuts on the issue of entitlement. We want news that resonates our own pre-held opinions. … That is the worst possible recipe for a country that prides itself in democracy.’”
—Ted Koppel, former anchor and managing editor
of ABC’s Nightline, in Poynter Institute speech,
Monday (9/14) Click here.
(Thanks to alert WORDster Ellen Hogan)

Editor’s note: Of course. Who said this—Reston? Apple? .... “How do I know what I think until I read what I wrote?”

Over the transom: So what’s to debate???
Council debates nudity, chickens
Staff Writer

Kennebec Journal (Maine)
(Thanks to alert WORDster Ruth E. Pease)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Homework for an Informed Planet

All the News That’s Fit . . .

“Try to read a newspaper every day—at bedtime or at breakfast or when you take a break in the afternoon. … The newspaper will be your path to the world at large. … In addition, a great newspaper will teach you how to write; most articles are models of clarity and substance—with no academic jargon!”
—James MacGregor Burns, government professor emeritus, Williams College, 2009.

Editor’s note: Sure, “most” articles! . . . . Click here for more Advice for Students.

More News: Iraqi Shoe-Thrower Freed
Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in December, was released from prison today after serving nine months of a three-year sentence.

Al-Baghdadia TV channel, al-Zaidi’s employer, has begun a massive celebration with traditional music and flowers to greet his release. . . .

After images of al-Zaidi throwing his shoes at Bush and screaming, “This is a farewell kiss from Iraqis, you dog” were beamed across the region, he became a hero in Iraq and across the Arab world.

Iraqis erected a giant statue of a golden shoe in his honour. Libyan leader Moammer al-Gadhafi said he would bestow his country's highest honour, the Libyan Medal of Honour, on al-Zaidi. The emir of Qatar promised him a golden horse. (From The Economic Times, 9/15/09)

For the sporting version, see this link.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Diet for Writers

Love of Words

“Read, read, read. Students ask me how to become a writer, and I ask them who is their favorite author. If they have none, they have no love of words.”
—Gary Wills, history professor and writer, 2009

Editor’s note: Twitter DOESN'T COUNT! Click here for more Advice for Students.

Uncle Jay Explains . . . tennis?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Experiential learning

Journalism Education

“In 1879, when a group of publishers met in Columbia, Missouri, and suggested the need for a professorship of journalism, Joseph Pulitzer weighed in: ‘It is as absurd to talk of it as to talk of a professorship of matrimony, it being one of those things of which nothing can be learned by those who have never tried it.’ He later changed his mind. The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, which he founded, will celebrate its centennial in September 2012.”
—James McGrath Morris, journalist and author,
Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power (2010)

Editor’s note: There are those in both occupations who never learn, as well....

NOTE: New Journalism Faculty Wanted
The Journalism & Communication Department at Utah State University is searching for two new fulltime faculty/professionals-in-residence to teach 1) public relations, and 2) video journalism. Professional experience and teaching background required. Start date: August 2010.
Click here for the link to the Broadcast/Video posting.
Click here for the link to the Public Relations posting.

Queries: Ted Pease, JCOM Department Head, Utah State University • ted.pease@usu.edu; 435-797-3293

Jimmy Margulies, The Record, New Jersey, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

One-Way Noise?

Deafening Silence

“I think our job is to represent all the submerged cultures in the world. I mean, you and your CBS and all the big amusement industries represent a way of silencing everybody. Communication was supposed to be two-way, but it turned out to be basically one-way. From those people who can afford to own a transmitter, which costs a few million dollars, to a little guy who can afford to own a receiver that costs a few bucks. So there are millions of receivers and people at the other end, and only a few transmitters. I think that is one of the major—if not the major—human problem now. Because everybody is off the air.”
—Alan Lomax (1915-2002), ethnomusicologist, in 1991 CBS interview.
(Thanks to alert WORDster Alan Kania)

Editor’s note: But what about the Web, where everyone’s talking all at once to himself...?

It’s Bill O'Reilly’s birthday (66)! Send “Papa Bear” a nice fruit basket.

NOTE: New Journalism Faculty Wanted
The Journalism & Communication Department at Utah State University is searching for two new fulltime faculty/professionals-in-residence to teach 1) public relations, and 2) video journalism. Professional experience and teaching background required. Start date: August 2010.

Click here for the link to the Broadcast/Video search.
Click here for the link to Public Relations search.

Queries: Ted Pease, JCOM Department Head, Utah State University • ted.pease@usu.edu; 435-797-3293

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

To Boldly Go . . .

Remembering the Role of Newspapers

“Editorial expression shapes public opinion only if it adheres to the right, if it serves the public interest, if it is fearless, vigorous, unprejudiced and persistent; if it adheres to a reasonable policy well-grounded in experience and unassailable in purpose. Such editorial expression is effective if it comes from an independent, free, solvent newspaper which has won the confidence of its field and is beyond the reach of selfish interests.”
—Arthur C. Johnson, editor-in-chief, The Columbus Dispatch, 1935

From Time magazine, Oct. 23, 1939:

“. . . Strickland Gillilan of Washington, D. C. is a veteran newspaperman, onetime president of American Press Humorists, best known as author of the line: ‘Off agin, on agin, gone agin, Finnigin.’

“Big, booming Dr. Cassius M. Shepard of Columbus, Ohio is an outstanding orthopedic surgeon, a topflight amateur photographer and gardener.

“Trim Arthur C. Johnson is editor and associate publisher of the Columbus Dispatch, president of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society, a trustee of Ohio University.

“Last week these three men had a simultaneous and peculiar attack of nostalgia when they learned that old Dr. Charles William Super, onetime president of Ohio University, had died in Athens, Ohio at 97. They had good reason to remember Dr. Super. When they were undergraduates together at Ohio University more than 40 years ago, President Super rose solemnly before the whole college one day, pointed a solemn finger at them and cried:

‘Gillilan, Shepard and Johnson—I haven’t the slightest doubt that all three of you will end up in a penitentiary!’”

Overheard in the Newsroom #1761

Reporter working from home, on the phone with editor:

Reporter: “Can you e-mail me my notes? My story is on my desktop.”

Editor: “OK, what’s the file called?”

Reporter: “It’s called ‘Stupid story that bores the shit out of me.’ ”


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Memo to Publishers

A Blogger Employment Plan?

“Publishers: With all the grim news of layoffs and staff cuts at the venerable houses of American letters, can we set some ground rules for these hard times? Anyone who abuses the English language on a regular basis should not be paid to put words in print.”
—Timothy Egan, columnist (and paid writer), 2008
Editor on health care reform: “Do you want us to be like Canada — cold and half-French?”

And Uncle Jay Explains the News for Labor Day Week.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Overheard in the Newsroom


Publisher to newsroom staff: “It smells like a funeral home in here.”



Two interns talking: “I feel like a trained monkey. They should feed us bananas.”


Out of d8?

Pay a10shun!

“Baroness Greenfield, the neuroscientist, is worried that sending text messages may cause young people to have shorter attention spans. If she’s right, of course, none of those young people will be aware of this, because she expressed her views in a newspaper article of several hundred words, some of them long, all of them spelled correctly, and none of them using digits as substitutes for whole syllables. All terribly old-fashioned and out-of-d8. So they won’t have read it.”
—Michael Deacon, columnist, The Daily Telegraph, 2009
(Thanks to alert WORDster Javan Kienzle)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Vast Wasteland Redux


“Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. . . . [D]uring the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live.”
—Edward R. Murrow (1900-1965), broadcaster, 1958

News About TV News: Diane Sawyer replaces Charlie Gibson as ABC World News anchor. NBC’s Brian Williams offers community service.

Diane Sawyer wins 1963 Junior Miss America. (AP Photo)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


No Matter Where You Go,
There You Are

“All publishers are Columbuses. The successful author is their America. The reflection that they—like Columbus—didn’t discover when they expected to discover, and didn’t discover what they started out to discover, doesn’t trouble them. All they remember is that they discovered America; they forget that they started out to discover some patch or corner of India.”
—Mark Twain, (1835-1910), author and curmudgeon, 1906

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

St. Mumbles

Alert WORDster

. . . Bruce Adomeit of the Minneapolis Star Tribune celebrates the WORD’s latest escape from St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose by sending this image of the Mumbling Lighthouse, off the coast of Wales, after which the WORD’s institution is modeled....

The Mombles Leuchtthurm an der Kuste von Glamorganshire

Mumbles Lighthouse, built in 1794, sits on the outer of two islands off Mumbles Head in Swansea Bay, Wales. “Mumbles Head,” he mused. “I like it!”

Overheard in the Newsroom


Overheard in the Newsroom #1718:

Assignment editor to Producer: “I have to run outside for a second. If anyone asks, I quit and walked out.


The Web’s Carbon Half-Life

New Media’s Golden Age

“This is the beauty of the new media: it isn’t so transitory as newspapers and TV. Good stuff sticks around and people email it to friends and it slowly floods the country. What the new media age also means is that there won’t be newspapers to send reporters to cover the next war, but there will be 6 million teenage girls blogging about their plans for the weekend.”
—Garrison Keillor, radio yarn-teller, wordguy and author, 2009