Journalism Haiku: 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.

The content had to be about journalism and the news media: its culture, mission, practice, frustrations.

The five winners:

By Gabriela Guedez

Seas of black coffee

Blank paper boats sink empty

Deadline is coming

By Smiley Anders

I miss typewriters

Only crashed when you dropped them

Holes in newsroom floor

By John Dillon

Ink-stained wretches learn

At fires on ice-cold nights that

Pencils never freeze

By Lillian Reed

Hands tapdance on keys

Clacks halt. You forgot to get

The name of the dog.

By Dan Gayle

Digital dimes cry

Web first binary teardrops

Pinkslips replace print

I entered one—an actual conversation with a writer—that got an honorable mention. (Counting style as two syllables probably should have disqualified it.)

You’re editing out

my style. Overwriting

is not a style.
Some other honorable mentions:

I wanted to write,

to craft stories that shape us

But first, I must tweet.

Two-hour interview

Great anecdotes, juicy quotes

“That’s off the record.”

Seas of black coffee

Blank paper boats sink empty,

Deadline is coming

I love newspapers:

The smell, the thud on doorsteps,

the paywall pop-up…

Where is the pizza

Why hasn’t it arrived yet

Election night rage

Your words are quite fine

But now I must edit them

I will be gentle.

Speak truth to power,

And hold their feet to the fire

Brave souls in dark times.

Watergate was a

hotel until journalists

made it a story.
And a few more I came up with:

Many editors

have failed as writers. But so

have many writers.

(Adapted from a T.S. Eliot quote: “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”

I’m an editor.

My job is to replace your

fantasy with mine.

Story: Have someone.

Get them into trouble. Get

them out of trouble.

(Adapted from an Alfred Hitchcock quote.)

An editor can

help a writer; only God

can help editors.


talking about heaven ain’t

going to get there.

(The old spiritual actually says “Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven ain’t goin’ there”)

There are only two

unfailing cures for writer’s

block: hunger and fear.

Half the staff writers

disliked the editor; the

other half hated him.

(Adapted from a Billy Paultz quote about Rick Barry: “Half of the players disliked Rick Barry. The other half hated him.”

Poverty is not

essential but it does help

make a writer work.

A slight editing of an Oscar Wilde quote:

It’s better to have

permanent income then to

be fascinating.

Don’t tell anyone

to go to hell unless you

can make them go there.

And my editing philosophy in three lines:

You never have to

apologize for showing

readers a good time.



  1. It beats
    the Tweets

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