“Our voice remains one of vigor, rather than hatred, of proud objectivity and not rhetoric. . .”

From a story, “Facing History: Why We Love Camus,” by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker:

What Camus wanted wasn’t new: just liberty, equality, and fraternity. But he found a new way to say it. Tone was what mattered. He discovered a way of speaking on the page that was unlike either the violent rhetorical clichés of Communism or the ponderous abstractions of the Catholic right. He struck a tone not of Voltairean Parisian rancor but of melancholic loft. Camus sounds serious, but he also sounds sad—he added the authority of sadness to the activity of political writing. He wrote with dignity, at a moment when restoring dignity to public language was necessary, and he slowed public language at a time when history was moving too fast. At the Liberation, he wrote:

A Good Reporter Will Go Almost Anywhere for a Good Quote

From a November 13 story by Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, headlined “A Return of Old Washington In Defiance of a Raucous Era”:

WASHINGTON — After so much noise, a formal feeling fell upon the Capitol. The civil servants had entered the room.

In a sense, seriousness itself stood trial on Wednesday as William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, and George P. Kent, a top State Department official, strode into the velvet-draped hearing room just after 10 a.m. They wore stern stares and were seemingly oblivious to the discord that brought them there. . . .

A Little Googling Shows That a Lot of People Have Been Pyromaniacs In a Field of Straw Men

In a Wall Street Journal story about the firing of Canadian hockey legend Don Cherry from his broadcasting job, Peter Mansbridge, the dean of Canadian newscasters, was described as “a pyromaniac in a field of straw men.”

A good line—I wondered if it had been used before. Like many good lines, the answer is yes.

George Will in 2011: “Elizabeth Warren is (as William F. Buckley described Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith) a pyromaniac in a field of straw men: She refutes propositions no one asserts.”

Jon Franklin on Horses, Zebras, and Journalism

Jon Franklin, the Baltimore Sun journalist who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting, on Facebook:

“I’ve been searching for decades for an opportunity to use the old medical caution about zebras. Young doctors are warned, ‘When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.’ It means that your mind will trick you, and fill your head with exotica, like in the textbooks you’re reading. Your patient might make you think of Tibetan ivostabible neural atrophy, but what ails her is a common cold. You gotta know when to think zebras and when to think horses.

“Good advice for journalists, too.

Oscar the Grouch Could Have Been a Good Journalist

From a Wall Street Journal column, “What We Can Learn From Oscar the Grouch,” by Colin Fleming, author of the book Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls.

A creature emerged from a trash can 50 years ago, on Nov. 10, 1969. The creators of “Sesame Street” blessed Oscar the Grouch with a searching spirit. His can is a kingdom of wonders. . . .

Oscar charms audiences with irrepressible bonhomie. True, he’s not the sort to suffer a fool, he’s not desperate to make a friend, but if you’re also of a questing spirit, he’ll take you to his grouchy bosom. Oscar’s a real friend. For life. Not one for social-media back-scratching. . . .

How a Journalist Can Really be Educated

As a followup to the post about how serving in the military can develop a bullshit detector—something ever more needed in journalism— another way to get smart about the world comes from the late, great Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire:

“I think everyone should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender and six months as a cabdriver. Then they would really be educated.”

“I’m sure this is the right way to use language, rather than tossing about words stripped of all meaning.”

With so much name-calling these days, this short excerpt seems timely: It’s from the novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by the Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk:

What a lack of imagination it is to have official first names and surnames. No one ever remembers them, they’re so divorced from the Person, and so banal that they don’t remind us of them at all. What’s more, each generation has its own trends, and suddenly everyone’s named Magdalena, Patryk, or—God forbid—Janina. That’s why I try my best never to use first names and surnames, but prefer epithets that comes to mind of their own accord the first time I see a Person.

“A Marine who knows what war is like and can make the reader feel the pain and profanity of it.”

Marine turned writer C.J. Chivers.

Barnard Law Collier adds these insights about military life to yesterday’s post “America’s Newsrooms Have Been Shockingly Negligent in Hiring Reporters Who Know These Conflicts and Their Impacts Best—Our Veterans.”
A soldier’s life and a civilian’s life exist in different times, mind sets, and places. Journalists without military experience cannot accurately describe what they feel like and mean.

That knowledge doesn’t come from books, and too few reporters and writers have been through the brutal mind-bending it requires to survive as a soldier. A notable exception is J. C. Chivers of the New York Times, a Marine who knows what war is like and can make the reader feel the pain and profanity of it.

“America’s newsrooms have been shockingly negligent in hiring reporters who know these conflicts and their impacts best—our veterans.”

The Twilight Zone of Sportswriting

The first four grafs of this morning’s Washington Post Virginia-Syracuse game story, by Chuck Culpepper:

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Remember that before Virginia won the national championship last spring through the breathless theater of late-game baskets, it typically beat its prey by inviting offenses into some barbed twilight zone until they looked disfigured and then devoured, their plans swirling down the drain in a froth of harried frustration and bad shots.

It was, in a way, an asphyxiation.