Sunday, August 25, 2013

Will Work For Free

Check the New York Times' editorial on unpaid internships.  Legal?  Ethical?  And why are not-for-profits off the hook when it comes to exploiting eager college kids who are convinced their only route to a job after graduation is to spend a summer working for free?

Here's a taste of what the NYT editorial board had to say:
Unpaid internships are, at best, ethically iffy. A necessary precursor to jobs in certain fields, they act as both a gateway and a barrier to entry. Young people believe they have no choice. Anyone unable to forgo pay risks being shut out.
Legally, they’re murky. The Labor Department holds that unpaid internships in the nonprofit sector are “generally permissible,” meaning my stint at The Paris Review, a nonprofit, was probably legitimate. A similar arrangement at a moneymaking outfit wouldn’t pass the department’s six-point test, which says that interns cannot displace regular employees; that the experience must be “for the benefit of the intern”; and that the employer cannot derive an “immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities.
I see this more as more than a labor issue.  The editorial hits (too briefly) on the fact that only a certain class of students can afford to spend the summer (or even the school year) without a paycheck.  If internships truly are the route to a job for college graduates, is this another way we are perpetuating a two-tier system? 

And then there's this: shouldn't those organizations with the noblest of missions -- i.e., non-profits -- do their best to attract a diverse workforce rather than, of necessity, limiting themselves to students of privilege?  Just asking.  bk

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to Write Right, via the late Elmore Leonard

Prolific and iconic mystery writer Elmore Leonard, who died this week, once offered the following rules for writing in a 2001 article for the New York Times.   His cut-to-the-bone suggestions help explain why his clipped, staccato voice -- not unlike some hard-edged detective talking out the side of his mouth -- translates so well to the screen, both big and small. 

(Not familiar?  Two can't-lose suggestions: "Get Shorty" and "Justified.")

His admonitions to avoid adverbs, hooptedoodle, exclamation points and anything other than forms of the verb "to say" could be well applied to journalism -- especially magazine writing.  Here's just a taste:
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ''she asseverated,'' and had to stop reading to get the dictionary. 

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .
. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''
Well worth keeping in mind... she said.  bk

(Photo credit: The Guardian)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Robots need not apply

Poynter reports that the Washington Post has decided against using robo-writers to cover high school sports.  At least for now. That's a relief.  But the baffling thing is that they were even considering it.

Words fail.  Go here to read more.