The Joys and Sorrows of Writing and Editing in Seventeen Syllables and Three Lines

By Jack Limpert

Poynter had a haiku journalism contest last week—here’s how they explained the contest and judging:

While haikus traditionally can express ideas, they are more often the product of some direct experience with nature. So we gave preference to haikus with details and things, rather than notions or opinions.

Various traditions of haiku allow the poet to order the 17 syllables in a variety of ways. Our standard was the most common: three lines: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. We gave points for interesting interactions of the lines: comparison, contrast, paradox,tension, resolution, epiphany.

About the Shooting of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley Jr.

Would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr. to be freed after 35 years

Washington Post, July 27, 2016

Some background:

Ronald Reagan, 69 days into his presidency, was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel after speaking to the Building and Construction Workers Union of the AFL-CIO when John Hinckley Jr., standing 10 feet from the President and armed with a .22 revolver, began shooting. Hinckley’s first shot hit press secretary James Brady and other shots wounded a DC police officer, Thomas Delahanty,  and a Secret Service agent, Timothy McCarthy. The final shot hit Reagan’s car and ricocheted into the President’s chest.

If You Can’t Run a Convention or a Campaign, Can You Run the Country?

By Jack Limpert

Ron Fournier, a savvy political reporter for the National Journal and the Atlantic, last week tweeted:

Every campaign day is a test. If Trump can’t run a decent convention, why should voters trust him w/ their country?

This week Fournier repeated the sentiment in an Atlantic piece:

If a candidate can’t run a political convention, they’re probably not up to the challenge of running a country. Trump flunked his test in Cleveland last week. Clinton is off to a poor start.

Here’s What Journalists Have Learned About Saying Too Much in an Email

By Jack Limpert

Politicians seem slower than journalists to learn that what you put in emails can get you fired. The latest:

Amid furor over an email leak that revealed a bias against Bernie Sanders inside the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced Sunday she will step down as chair.

Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails from her private server continue to be a ticking time bomb in her presidential campaign, and here’s another 2016 email story—from the Washington Post—involving Donald Trump.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks last summer about illegal immigrants “essentially torpedoed” the planned Spanish restaurant that Washington-based celebrity chef José Andrés had agreed to open in Trump’s luxury Washington hotel, the restaurateur said in a new legal filing.

Writing 101: Don’t be Too Quick to Take No for an Answer

By Jack Limpert


Philip and Eleanor Merrill.  Photo by Diana Walker.

Yesterday I went to a celebration of the life of Eleanor Merrill, who with her husband Phil bought the Washingtonian magazine in 1979. They ran it until Phil’s death ten years ago; then their daughter, Cathy Merrill Williams, took over and she continues to run it as a very successful city magazine.

When the Merrills bought the Washingtonian, I had been editing it for ten years. Phil and Ellie immediately brought in some of their key people from the Annapolis Capital newspaper, which the Merrills had bought in 1969, to help us run the magazine in a more businesslike way.

Writing 101: The Power of Unadorned Good Quotes

By Jack Limpert

51tf4fn-oQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a novel by George V. Higgins, got good reviews, sold well, and then became a very good movie.  Higgins, a journalist turned lawyer and prosecutor, knew how criminals, cops, and prosecutors talked and the novel was full of dialogue.

Here’s a sample from the final chapter. Clark is Foster Clark, the lawyer for Jackie Brown, the defendant in a gunrunning case. Clark is talking with one of the prosecutors on the case.

“I was wondering if we could work something out,” Clark said. “I haven’t really had a chance to talk with him, but I was wondering.”

The Friends of Eddie Coyle Taught Elmore Leonard How to Move Things Along

By Jack Limpert


Higgins had been a reporter at the Providence Journal and the AP before going to law school.

When author Elmore Leonard received the lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation, he said The Friends of Eddie Coyle, the novel by George V. Higgins, had helped teach him to write. Leonard said that early in his career his agent told him to read Eddie Coyle to see how Higgins wrote dialogue that moved a story along.

In his acceptance speech, Leonard quoted the first sentence of Eddie Coyle: “Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns.”

Maybe the Best Letter Ever Sent by a Writer to an Editor

To Edward Weeks, editor of the Atlantic Monthly:

By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have. I think your proofreader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course, provided I get both sidewalks and the street between.

When Cops Have to Battle Criminals and Guns—and Bureaucracy

Two earlier posts—Washington D.C.’s Police Department Was Once a Lot Like Many U.S. Police Departments Still Are Today and Diary of a Young Policeman— showed how the Washington, D.C., police department dealt with long entrenched police attitudes and how one idealistic D.C. policeman was forced out because he believed too much in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. . .”

Then, while D.C. police were grappling with increasing racial tensions and violence, a new challenge arose—the bureaucracy of the U.S. Justice Department.

Diary of a Young Policeman: “Keller, You Ain’t No Cherry No More”

By Jack Limpert

In July 1969, a few weeks after the Washingtonian published a story about John Layton, chief of police in Washington, D.C., Layton resigned (see July 8 post about Layton). Replacing Layton was Jerry V. Wilson, thought to be less rigid and more able to help police deal with residents of the nation’s capital, then three-quarters African-American.