Friday, October 30, 2009


Historians: Journalists Who Miss Deadline

“News is history in its first and best form, its vivid and fascinating form . . . History is the pale and tranquil reflection of it.”
—Mark Twain (1835-1910), author and sometime journalist/historian

Editor’s Note: Honey, get me rewrite!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Newsroom wisdom

Overheard in the Newsroom #2064:

At a student journalism conference: “Pull quotes are like condoms. You only need one.”


Journalistic Essence

What Makes Journalists Tick

“Let me just say that I’m always suspicious when I see articles about the motivations of journalists. I think they often reflect a misunderstanding of what journalism is all about. Journalists are supposed to be assholes. The system does not work, in fact, if society’s journalists are all nice, kind, friendly, rational people.

“You want a good percentage of them to be inconsolably crazy. You want them to be jealous of everything and everyone and to have heaps of personal hangups and flaws. That way they will always be motivated to punch holes in things.”

—Matt Taibbi, journalist and blogger, Rolling Stone, 2009 URL
(Thanks to alert WORDster Malcolm McMichael)

Editor’s Note: Sing along: “Still crazy, still cra-azee! Still crazy after all these years.”

CALLING ALL USU JCOM ALUMS: Where are you? We’re updating our alumni list. Please send your current position, title, contact info (including email), graduation year and any news to

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dead Fish & Other Love Notes

On the Obama-Fox News Fracas

“Rahm Emanuel once sent a dead fish to a live pollster. Now he’s put a horse’s head in Roger Ailes’s bed. Not very subtle. And not very smart. Ailes doesn’t scare easily.”
—Charles Krauthammer, columnist, The Washington Post (10/23/09) URL
(NOTE: Krauthammer also works for Fox News...)

Editor’s Note: Did he wrap the dead fish in a newspaper?

Where are you? We're updating our alumni list. Please send your current position, title, contact info (including email), graduation year and any news to

• • •

Overheard in the Newsroom #2039:
Copy editor: “One of these days, we’re all going to snap. They won’t say we’re going postal. They’ll say we’re going journalist.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Intellectual Prostitutes

The Good Old Days of the Press

“There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print.

“I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone.

“The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance.

“Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

—John Swinton (1829-1901), New York journalist and editor,
on being asked to toast independence of the press, 1880
(Thanks to alert WORDster Arnold Ismach)

Editor’s Note: Callin’ ‘em low and outside.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Idiot Culture

Taking Journalism’s Temperature: 1999

“In what Carl Bernstein has called the ‘triumph of the idiot culture,’ the ideals of truth, justice, and emancipation have become almost meaningless, mere verbiage that professional journalism organizations quaintly place in their codes of ethics. ‘For the first time in our history, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our ideal,’ says Bernstein. ... Of course, one reason newspapers have turned to gross simplicity and the sensational is to attract younger people who don’t read, and so print journalism has tried to be more like TV, becoming more simple to attract readers who still won’t read the paper.”
—Peter Sacks, author, journalist and essayist, in Generation X Goes to College, 1999.

Editor’s Note: Which explains the balloon boy.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Swine Flu?


Mike Keefe

Bet on Newspapers?

More Vice Needed!

“In these times when big-city papers and magazines are disappearing and shrinking—The New York Times is cutting 100 more newsroom jobs and Condé Nast is closing four magazines—we need life rafts. Publications once buoyed by splashy ads evoking drinking and sex are now conjuring ways to use drinking and sex to subsidize the news. The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal have wine clubs. Condé Nast has started an online dating Web site for a fee of $30 a month called . . . . Self-described print press ‘fanatic’ Mortimer Zuckerman, who owns The Daily News and U.S. News & World Report, proposed that the federal government could save newspapers by allowing sports betting on newspaper Web sites. . . . ‘Newspapers are so critical for public dialogue and holding public officials responsible,’ he told me. ‘And who’s going to be able to afford original reporting in the next five years? Very, very few.’”
—Maureen Dowd, New York Times columnist, (10/21/09, URL)
(Thanks to alert WORDster John N. Ward)

Editor’s Note: What’s the spread?

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Society’s Health

“I think we should all care about the future health and quality of this particular business. It is, like it or not, the disposable addition to our education that either lands on the doorstep, or pops up on the computer screen, every day. But journalism is more than just a business and more than just a continuing education course. It is something that both reflects the spirit of the times, the zeitgeist, and can shape it. Good journalism can make public discourse more honest and less oversimplified, more dominated by logical thinking and less dominated by rhetoric.”
—David Brown, physician and medical writer,
The Washington Post,
(Thanks to alert WORDster Hank Nuwer)

Editor’s Note: Take a newspaper and call me in the morning.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Know News When I See It

Obama v. Fox

Point: “Let’s not pretend they’re a news network. Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.”
—Anita Dunn, White House Communications Director URL

Counterpoint: “Surprisingly, the White House continues to declare war on a news organization instead of focusing on the critical issues that Americans are concerned about like jobs, health care and two wars.”
—Michael Clemente, Fox News senior vice president URL

Editor’s Note: “Jane, you ignorant slut!”
(For those who've forgotten Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin spoofing 60 Minutes’ James J. Kilpatrick and Shanna Alexander, see this classic from SNL.) 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sick Puppies

Uncivil Political Discourse

“I don’t like it. I think the cables have a lot to do with it. I’ll take you back to when I was president—we got tons of criticism, but didn’t seem day-in and day-out quite as personal as some of these talk show people. And it’s not just the right. There are plenty of people on the left. If you want me to name a couple of names, I’ll be glad to do that for you: Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow—I mean here are a couple of sick puppies. And the way they treat my son and treat anybody that’s opposed to their point of view is just horrible.”
—George H.W. Bush, 41st U.S. President, on CBS radio (10/16/09)

Editor’s Note: woof?

Monday, October 19, 2009


Matson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2009

Brave New Panacea

Jammie Journalism?

“Many journalism schools, to please industry, started creating courses that were merely about presentation, and they forgot about content. Too often, when the technology is overemphasized in the curriculum, it gives the impression that you can do journalism sitting down in your pajamas. You can’t do that.”
—Michael J. Bugeja, director of the
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University, 2009 URL

Editor’s Note: Form over substance?


Friday, October 16, 2009

Fox News to the Principal’s Office!

Food-Fight TV

“It goes against the personal style of me and (former co-host) Robert MacNeil—talk about ducks out of water. We would be like baseball players trying to play football. MacNeil always said, ‘If you want to make heat on television, that’s easy. If you want to make light, that’s hard. Let’s do the hard part.’

“I can throw some meat out and have people yelling at each other in five minutes. But if you want to make light, that's harder. Heat is great TV, but it isn’t great journalism.

“Compared to the food-fight TV, we seem like an oasis in a screaming desert.”

—Jim Lehrer, host, “NewsHour” on PBS, 2000 URL

Editor’s Note: Put the mashed potatoes down, Beck!

The Detroit riot, 1967.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Legends & The Man

Journalists—Legends in Their Own Minds

“The skills of finding out what is not known and rendering it in comprehensible ways has practical value in other parts of the economy, but the thrill of this thing of ours is not a moveable feast. The difference between a reporting job and other jobs is the difference between working for The Man and being The Man, a legend, at least, in your own mind.”
—David Carr, media columnist, The New York Times (9/13/09) URL
(Thanks to alert WORDster Alexandra Halsey)

Editor’s Note: Other legends: Bigfoot, Nessie & Area 54....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Wonders & Follies

“The morning paper renews the newness of life each day without fail: a glorious bazaar, a circus of wonder & follies, a forum, a sideshow, a school, a stage.”
—Leo Rosten (1908-1997), author, comedian and scriptwriter
(Thanks to alert WORDsters Julia Truilo and Marc Davidson)

Editor’s Note: Gloriously bizarre, too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Writing Habit

Home Alone

“If you think of home as a place where you feel comfortable, where you can kick off your shoes and be yourself, then writing is my home. No matter where I am, if I have my laptop or my journal, I’m home. When I pick up the pen, I experience the most profound feeling of intimacy and acceptance and familiarity I know.”
—Sheryl St. Germain, poet and creative writing professor, 2009
(Thanks to alert WORDster Steve Marston)

Editor’s Note: Sometimes hard to hold and your hand gets tired, but I write with a dog, too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

This Just In

Obama aide accuses Fox of operating as GOP arm

NEW YORK – One of President Barack Obama’s top aides says Fox News Channel acts like a wing of the Republican Party.

White House Communications Director Anita Dunn told CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday that Fox News operates “almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.”

It’s another sign of the White House’s aggressively going after Fox.

Commentators Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity have been strong administration critics. The president avoided Fox when he visited five Sunday morning news shows last month, and a recent White House blog post accused Beck of lying.

Fox News executive Michael Clemente says most viewers know the difference between news and opinion shows. He says attacking the messenger doesn’t work.

Tweet This!

The Morning Fix

“Sixty-three percent of all Americans think they won’t miss the daily paper? I think 63 percent of all Americans are wrong.”
—Leonard Pitts Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist,
The Miami Herald
(3/19/09) (Click here for column.)

Editor’s Note: And that’s just 100 characters—40 left for commentary.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hug a Reporter

First things first

“The bloggers are talkers, commentators, not reporters. The talk-show hosts are reactors, commentators, not reporters. The search engines can search but do not report. All of them, every single one of them, have to have the news in order to exist and thrive.”
—Jim Lehrer, journalist and host of PBS’s “NewsHour,” 2007
(Speech at UT-Austin, 11/6/07, American-Statesman)

Editor’s Note: Remember this? “Content is king.”


Thursday, October 8, 2009


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

“Amid chaos of images, we value coherence. We believe in the printed word. And we believe in clarity. And we believe in immaculate syntax. And in the beauty of the English language.”
—William Shawn (1907-1992),
longtime editor of The New Yorker
(Thanks to alert WORDster Javan Kienzle)

Editor’s Note: Who’s this “we”?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


On the death of print . . .

“It’s such a phony war, print versus the Internet. So much of print has one foot in on the Web these days—New Yorker writers blog, Times reporters shoot digital video. And the so-called old lions are turning out wonderful journalism—see our Cheat Sheet, which is agnostic about print or online journalism, on a daily, hourly basis.”
—Tina Brown, former magazine editor and now the roar behind The Daily Beast, which turns 1 this week. (Click here for interview.)

Editor’s Note: Rumors of our death are highly exaggerated.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


The Real Role of the Fourth Estate

“The rhetoric of American journalism describes an adversarial fourth estate, a redoubt for professional skeptics who scrutinize authority in the name of the public and help keep public discourse honest. As long as our newspapers enjoyed quasi-monopolies and the evening newscasts were a national touchstone, the moth-eaten reality of this self-image was easily ignored. But the hard truth is that the press mostly amplifies the agendas of others—the prominent and the powerful—and tends to aggressively assume its adversarial role only when someone or something . . . is wounded and vulnerable.”
—Brent Cunningham, managing editor, Columbia Journalism Review, 2009

Editor’s Note: I have no questions.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Tools of the Trade

Burning Desire

“An incinerator is a writer’s best friend.”
—Thornton Wilder (1897-1975), playwright and novelist

Editor’s Note:
Bonfires of the vanities?


Friday, October 2, 2009

Deathly Silence

“Much of the media has been bought, or cajoled and bullied into silence. Dozens of journalists are dead and others have been incarcerated without trial for months. Who then survives to provide the public with a contrarian view?”
—Lasantha Wickramatunga (1956-2009), editor, The Sunday Leader, Colombo, Sri Lanka, was assassinated four days after writing this editorial 1/4/09.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hold 'Em Back

First Things First

“I have taught many students whose SAT scores exempted them from the writing requirement, but a disheartening number of them couldn’t write and an equal number of them had never been asked to. They managed to get through high school without learning how to write a clean English sentence, and if you can’t do that, you can’t do anything.”
—Stanley Fish, New York Times columnist and professor,
Florida International University, 2009

Editor’s Note: And how do they get into Congress?