For Those Writers—Most Editors Have Known a Few—Who Settle for Being Pretty Good

Frank Deford at home in Key West with his wife Carol and dog Miss Snickers. Photo by Tom Goldman/88.5WFDD

Frank Deford has been a writer at Sports Illustrated for 50 years, he’s written 18 books, and he’s been talking sports on NPR for 37 years. He called his NPR commentaries “Sweetness and Light: The Score on Sports” and this week’s talk was his last.

He once wrote something about sports that I thought applied equally to writers and for many years it was on the editorial bulletin board at the Washingtonian:

What Words Sell? What Words Make You Feel Better in the Morning?

One goal of a magazine editor is to sell lots of copies of each issue on the newsstand. If you can get someone to buy a newsstand copy, they then might subscribe and many subscription renewals are one key to a magazine’s financial health. So editors do a lot of thinking about what cover subjects and cover lines will sell.

People magazine has been a newsstand star for many years and its founding editor, Dick Stolley, once came up with his laws of magazine covers. A little tongue-in-cheek but pretty accurate:

That Memorable Movie Line? You Might Not Get It Past a Good Copy Editor

In Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart didn’t say, “Play it again, Sam.”

Bill Walsh, the late, great Washington Post copy editor, wrote three often-funny books about his craft and he admitted that copy editors sometimes could be spoilsports. In one book, Yes, I Could Care Less: How to be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk, he took lines from movies that people love to quote and pointed out that the oft-quoted line was not what was actually said in the movie. Some of his favorites:

“Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

Learning to Love—or At Least Appreciate—Those Bastards from the AP

Most newsrooms once had both UPI and AP teletype machines.

At a lunch of mostly retired journalists, the subject of the Associated Press came up. The AP had just reported its 2016 earnings:

NEW YORK (AP) — Earnings at The Associated Press shrank substantially last year compared with 2015, when the news organization enjoyed a large tax benefit that skewed its results. Revenue also edged downward, reflecting continued contraction in the newspaper industry and a stronger U.S. dollar that reduced the value of overseas sales.

When Geeks March, The Hypotheses Get Giddy

By Mike Feinsilber

Some of their signs looked more like hypotheses, and I sort of expected footnotes and citations. But at Washington’s huge and rain-soaked Science March, most sign bearers showed that scientists can be witty and political. And longwinded, even on a placard.

The verbosity made my task hard, trying—in Saturday’s rain—to jot down the slogans. Carried in some instances by demonstrators wearing white lab coats.

My notebook got soggy, my ballpoint ink smeared and I felt like a cub. So I skipped the dissertations and went for the pithy. And, dry at home, searched the internet for more signs carried at marches elsewhere.

Signs of Protest on Tax Day: “If Brains Were Taxed, He’d Get a Refund”

By Mike Feinsilber

Something about Donald Trump—or maybe it is everything about Donald Trump—arouses the creative juices among his critics. On Tax Day, protesters marched to demonstrate their displeasure with Trump’s refusal to make public his tax returns.

Hand-lettered signs carried by demonstrators in a march from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial by way of the Trump Hotel and the IRS bore both anger and mockery. Some wanted revenge at the ballot box (“Flip the House 2018”) and some latched onto suspicions that a Russian connection underlies Trump’s refusal (“I Didn’t Order a White Russian” and “Can Trump Claim Putin as a Dependent?”). But most stuck to topic A (“Trump doesn’t Pay Taxes, Why Should We?”).

The Ten Million Reasons Why the Washington Post Loves Professor Allan Lichtman

Carlos Lozada of the Washington Post on Sunday credited American University professor Allan Lichtman and his Keys to the White House with “calling every presidential contest since 1984.” Lichtman’s 13 keys predict the winner of the presidential popular vote. In 2000, he correctly predicted that Al Gore would win the popular vote, but George W. Bush won the election and the presidency. In 2016, Lichtman’s keys predicted that Donald Trump would win the popular vote, which he didn’t—Hillary Clinton got almost three million more votes. That faulty popular vote prediction was the result of a Lichtman mistake with his 13 keys.

As Mark Twain Said, “Never Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story”

The Washington Post continues to credit American University professor Allan J. Lichtman with being one of the few political prognosticators to call the 2016 president election for Donald Trump.

On October 27, Post reporter Peter W. Stevenson wrote:

Last month, the man who’s tried to turn vote prediction into a science predicted a Trump win.

Allan J. Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University, said Democrats would not be able to hold on to the White House.

What Kind of Leads Help Win Pulitzers and National Magazine Awards?

Poynter had a good piece yesterday on the best leads on stories that won 2017 Pulitzer Prizes. The very best lead, said Roy Peter Clark, was written by Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. His story won the Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting for coverage of the opioid crisis in small-town West Virginia. The lead:

Follow the pills and you will find the overdose deaths.

The trail of painkillers leads to West Virginia’s southern coalfields, to places like Kermit, population 392.

There, out-of-state drug companies shipped nearly 9 million highly addictive — and potentially lethal — hydrocodone pills over two years to a single pharmacy in the Mingo County town.

Mr. Magoo Meets Journalism: What It’s Like to be Interviewed for Animated News

By Barnard Law Collier

Neil Collier: Animating news for the New York Times.

I’m captivated by the potential of “animated news,” a still experimental facet of journalism that was, until a few weeks ago, news to me.

Animated news is the use of audio/visual interviews that, instead of showing the actual speaker’s photographic image, employs a graphic artist to turn their vocalizations into a clip of portraits, symbols, colors, moods, and actions. I’d seen little of it, and the idea tickled my storytelling antennae.  I thought: “News marries art.”