Monday, October 18, 2010

another obit

And yet one more piece of evidence that some of the most evocative newspaper writing can be found on the obituary pages. This, an obit of basketball player Manute Bol, was forwarded to me by Melissa Martin, a former student. Here's just a taste of why obituaries are important, not just as testament to one person's legacy, but to what we as a society value. Click on the link above to read the whole thing.

Manute Bol, who died last week at the age of 47, is one player who never achieved redemption in the eyes of sports journalists. His life embodied an older, Christian conception of redemption that has been badly obscured by its current usage.

Bol, a Christian Sudanese immigrant, believed his life was a gift from God to be used in the service of others. As he put it to Sports Illustrated in 2004: "God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back."

He was not blessed, however, with great athletic gifts. As a center for the Washington Bullets, Bol was more spectacle than superstar. At 7 feet, 7 inches tall and 225 pounds, he was both the tallest and thinnest player in the league. He averaged a mere 2.6 points per game over the course of his career, though he was a successful shot blocker given that he towered over most NBA players.

Bol reportedly gave most of his fortune, estimated at $6 million, to aid Sudanese refugees. As one twitter feed aptly put it: "Most NBA cats go broke on cars, jewelry & groupies. Manute Bol went broke building hospitals."

Friday, October 15, 2010

anyone can be a writer?

That's apparently what Associated Press seems to think. Fishbowl NY reports that the AP has given up the term "writer" in its bylines in favor of simply "Associated Press". Why? Because the story may be "written" by anyone else who happens to be on the job:

The Associated Press has changed how it is asking its reporters to refer to themselves in their articles as of October 26th. In a memo, Tom Kent, the AP’s deputy managing editor for standards and production, announced that the term “Associated Press writer” would be retired in favor of “Associated Press” in order to allow for the fact that, increasingly, articles may be written by photographers, videographers and radio reporters in addition to those working primarily in print.

Maybe there's a point here, but here's mine. Is reporting and writing so easy that anyone can do it? Professionalism and experience not necessary, apparently.

Wonder what would happen if writers and reporters considered ourselves photogs. If we've got a camera, we can do it, right? bk

Thursday, October 14, 2010

provide us no content

To you from Garrison Keillor. For those of us who believe that the news-industry-as-we-knew-it began its slow trek to hell in a handbasket the day that we began to use "content" as a catch-all for anything that appears on a screen that strings more than a couple of sentences together:

"I sure wish we could get rid of that word 'content' to refer to writing, photography, drawing, and design online. The very word breathes indifference--why would one bother about the quality of work when it's referred to as 'content'? I'm sorry to respond to your good question with a cranky diatribe, but this word has crept from New Media over to Radio Broadcasting where I live in my little cave and now my Show has become Content and is sent around to stations in a nice digital package that squashes the sound. Public radio, which holds itself up as a believer in quality, is cutting corners on all sides and I see this perfidious word 'content' as part of the downward slide. I loathe the word. It's like referring to Omaha as a 'development.'"

--Garrison Keillor, radio curmudgeon, in response to a listener question about how he develops "content" for his radio show, "The Prairie Home Companion," 2009

why writers write

Fabulous piece on the Canadian Journalism Project website on journalist Ian Brown ruminating on the joys of long form journalism. Here's what he says about our stock in trade -- information:

He thinks there are two kinds of information and that 80% of what news organizations produce is the first kind: the info that we need to know -- interest rates, traffic, what’s happening at Nuit Blanche -- but “it’s really kind of prosaic. It’s kind of like looking for your car keys instead of going on a voyage of discovery.”

There’s also a second kind of information, the information you didn’t know you wanted to know, but you are thrilled to discover that you want to. “I think that’s the kind of information that real writers -- writers who care about how you tell a story as much as the story you tell -- that’s the kind of information writers traffic in. You don’t need this information to live your daily life, but it does make your daily life more worth living.” It comes as well-told stories, he says, the kind of journalism that people want to reread.

If that's not enough to get you to read the whole piece, there's this: The story starts out with the way Brown found his lead for a story on infertility treatments.. It's not what you think. Or maybe it is.

Friday, October 8, 2010

how not to get a job, gonzo style

Gawker posted this excerpt from a letter the 21-year-old Hunter S. Thompson, asking for a job at the Vancouver Sun back in 1958. Needless to say, he didn't get the job. (You can find the entire letter here.)

On the other hand, it didn't really matter, now, did it?


October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City


I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I'd also like to offer my services.

Since I haven't seen a copy of the "new" Sun yet, I'll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn't know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I'm not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.

By the time you get this letter, I'll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I'll let my offer stand. And don't think that my arrogance is unintentional: it's just that I'd rather offend you now than after I started working for you. [...]

The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It's a year old, however, and I've changed a bit since it was written. I've taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you're trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I'd like to work for you.

Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.

I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don't give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.

I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of. [...]

Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson

Monday, October 4, 2010

R.I.P.: The English Language

Great piece by the WaPo's Gene Weingarter about the demise of English as we know it. Here's just a taste:

The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the "youngest" daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their "younger" daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the "Obama's." This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.

The language's demise took few by surprise. Signs of its failing health had been evident for some time on the pages of America's daily newspapers, the flexible yet linguistically authoritative forums through which the day-to-day state of the language has traditionally been measured. Beset by the need to cut costs, and influenced by decreased public attention to grammar, punctuation and syntax in an era of unedited blogs and abbreviated instant communication, newspaper publishers have been cutting back on the use of copy editing, sometimes eliminating it entirely.

To read more, go here. bk