Writers at Work: Ways to Get the Words Flowing

By Ray E. Boomhower


Joan Didion: “I need an hour alone before dinner…to go over what I’ve done that day.”

“I asked Ring Lardner the other day how he writes his short stories, and he said he wrote a few widely separated words or phrases on a piece of paper and then went back and filled in the spaces.”—Harold Ross

“A writer should never install himself before a panorama, however grandiose it may be. . . .Like Saint Jerome, a writer should work in his cell.”—Blaise Cendrars

No, Chuck Todd, the Problem is Dan Snyder and the Redskins

By Jack Limpert

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 11.11.22 AM

Since Dan Snyder bought the Redskins, it’s been all downhill for everything in Washington. Photograph courtesy of Flickr.

Chuck Todd, moderator of Meet the Press, is a sports fan and yesterday, in response to the late-season meltdown of the Washington Nationals, he tweeted: “Why has the disease of Washington dysfunction infected every Washington sports franchise? Can we blame this on Congress and the WH too?”

In response, journalist David M. Drucker tweeted: “Viable argument that it’s actually Redskins dysfunction has spread to govt & other sports franchises.”

Annals of Media Diversity: A Way to Help Save Local Journalism?

By Jack Limpert

Headline in the New York Times: The Daily News Layoffs and Digital Shift May Signal the Tabloid Era’s End

Headline in the Washington Post: How the coming MGM resort casino could help energize Radio One

From the story in the Times: “When it was over and the feature page was gone, dozens of reporters had been fired and the morning assignment editor was shown the door only minutes after handing out the morning’s first assignments, The Daily News—or what was left of it—was in a state of shock. For weeks the staff had known that layoffs might be coming, and when they did come, on Sept. 16, it was with the swiftness of a Soviet-era purge.”

What Editors Can Learn from a Losing Baseball Team

By Jack Limpert

The Washington Nationals, the early season betting favorite to win the World Series, lost any chance of making the playoffs yesterday and this morning the Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga asked, “Manager Matt Williams lost the clubhouse; will he lose his job?”

How does a manager lose the clubhouse? Do editors win or lose newsrooms?

As an editor, I always felt I had two jobs:

Editors at Work: What You Don’t Want to Hear from a Designer

By Jack Limpert

An earlier post, Harold Ross and the Virtue of Clarity, had A.J. Liebling, back in 1959, explaining Ross’s passion for making everything in a New Yorker story clear. Liebling wrote: “He would ask scores of marginal questions, including many to which he knew the answer, on the off chance that unless all were pre-explained in the text some particularly stupid woman might pick up a New Yorker in a dentist’s waiting room and be puzzled.”

At the Washingtonian, I tried to emulate Ross’s passion for clarity. In the Writers Guidelines we gave out for four decades, this was the last graf:

Harold Ross and the Virtue of Clarity

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 10.40.02 AMFrom “Harold Ross—The Impresario,” by A.J. Liebling:

Have a Little Fun With the Pope’s Visit But Don’t Overdo It and Get Fired

By Jack Limpert

9-21-15-pope-francis-visit-to-dc-memorabili-and-souvenirs2Some of the feature coverage of the visit of Pope Francis has struck me as maybe too irreverent—but that probably comes from seeing a fellow editor get fired for publishing an irreverent piece about a Cardinal a few days before a Pope died.

What Editors Should Know About Numbers

By Jack Limpert

Mike Feinsilber posted yesterday about why writers should be careful about how numbers are used in stories. Here’s a shortened version of an earlier post (May 2013) about editors and numbers.
In school I was good at math and when I drifted into journalism I still liked to play with numbers. At publications where I worked, it always was a surprise that most journalists couldn’t do basic algebra. Let’s say a magazine has a 55-45 ad-edit ratio. We have 113 pages of ads sold for the October issue. How many editorial pages do we get? (55 is to 45 as 113 is to X. Edit gets 93 pages.)

Six Billion Ways Numbers Confound Us

By Mike Feinsilber

Okay, I exaggerate. There are only 4.247 billion ways people who write use numbers—purposefully or innocently—in ways that mislead the reader or puzzle him.

For example: In the Washington Post of September 18, 2015, Sibley Memorial Hospital ran an ad which said: “Sibley Memorial Hospital is ranked in the top 10 percent of hospitals nationwide for hip and knee replacement.” It cites U.S. News & World Report as its source.

Without context, we are left to wonder, “10 percent of what?” Is Sibley among the 10 percent of hospitals that do the most hip and knee jobs? Among the top 10 percent in how much it charges? Among the 10 percent with the best results?

Want World-Wide Attention? Write About a Dog.

By Jack Limpert

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 10.30.15 AMThe Washingtonian is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary—here’s a look back at the small picture and few words that got the magazine more world-wide coverage than any story we published.

One spring morning in 1989, before going to work, I was walking Lindy, our Golden Retriever. I stopped to talk with a neighbor who was walking her Springer Spaniel. When I said something nice about her dog, she began to talk about the virtues of Springer Spaniels and she mentioned that her dog was a lot better looking than Millie, President George H.W. Bush’s dog. I’m not sure she called Millie ugly but she didn’t think the White House dog was a good representative of the breed.