The Things Writers Say to Editors

There was that one writer who, in overriding a copy editor’s attempt to repair one of his godawful sentences, sniffily noted “It’s called style” in the margin. And the one who, in response to a perfectly demure piece of editorial advice, scrawled in what was either red crayon or blood, “WRITE YOUR OWN FUCKING BOOK.”

—From Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Journalist-Historian Paul Johnson On the Media’s Seven Deadly Sins

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Paul Johnson, the British journalist and historian, has long been interested in the United States and, while in Washington researching his book, A History of the American People, he talked with The Washingtonian about what was wrong with the U.S media and how to fix it. Here’s some of what he found wrong:

First, distortion by tendentious selection and unscrupulous editing, by deliberate suppression of nuances and qualifications, by exaggeration and hyperbole, by misplace enthusiasms, unjustified criticism, and misuse of evidence. Journalists should be subject to Karl Popper’s rule for scientists seeking truth: Look not just for evidence that proves your thesis, but with the same eagerness for evidence that disproves it.

Two Words That Almost Always Are a Stop Sign for the Reader

Yesterday’s post, “Go a week without writing any of these words and you will be a considerably better writer,” lists a dozen words that add little or nothing to good writing. Even worse are the pair of words former and latter—they almost always are a stop sign for the reader. An example:

During a lively Fox News discussion with Bud Abbot and Lou Costello over the Mueller Report and the possibility of President Trump’s impeachment, Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Donna Brazile agreed that the former was more qualified to discuss national politics than the latter.

Go a Week Without Writing Any of These Words and You Will Be a Considerably Better Writer

From Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style:                                                                                                                                                                                             Go a week without writing:

in fact
just (in the sense of merely)
pretty (as in “pretty tedious”)
so (in the “extremely” sense)
of course
that said

If you can last a week without writing any of what I’ve come to think of as the Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers…you will at the end of that week be a considerably better writer than you were at the beginning.

Can Trump Win in 2020 Getting 43 Percent of the Popular Vote? It Happened in 1992 and 1968.

Yesterday’s post about journalists often not being good at predicting the outcome of presidential elections focused on 1992, when many journalists thought President George H.W. Bush would easily defeat Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. A third party candidate, Ross Perot, was considered too weak to affect the election. The actual vote: Bill Clinton, 44,909,899 votes, George Bush, 39,105, 545 votes, Ross Perot, 19,743,821 votes. Clinton got 43 percent of the vote, Bush 37.4 percent, Perot a surprising 18.9 percent. While Perot didn’t win any electoral votes, his strong popular vote affected the outcome in some states.

Will 2020’s Election Predictions Be Another 1992 for Washington Journalists?

In 1992 President George H.W. Bush was running for reelection and Democrats didn’t have a high-profile candidate to challenge him. California governor Jerry Brown and Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas were the strongest challengers with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey also running. Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas, was relatively unknown but running as a centrist Democrat he swept nearly all of the Southern Super Tuesday primaries and then defeated Brown in the California primary, clinching the nomination.

So it was George Bush vs. Bill Clinton. A third party candidate, Ross Perot, known only for founding a computer company, seemed irrelevant.

“If you have to be sure don’t write”

From the Washington Post obit, “W.S. Merwin, poet of austere lyricism who twice won the Pulitzer Prize, dies at 91,” written by Harrison Smith.

For all his acclaim, Mr. Merwin sometimes expressed uncertainty about the quality of his work. In his poem “Berryman,” he recalled a harrowing conversation with his mentor at Princeton:

I had hardly begun to read

I asked how can you ever be sure

that what you write is really

any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure

you die without knowing

Faking It and Making It—In Ninth Grade and In Journalism

At the Washingtonian magazine we had 15 editorial interns each year. Most came from relatively upscale families and had impressive resumes. The tiebreaker for me in picking interns was what did you do during your high school and college summer breaks?

I looked for interns who hadn’t had what amounted to fake summer jobs (being a lifeguard at the country club pool) but who had worked at real jobs with people different from their friends and their parents’ friends.

What brought this to mind were this week’s stories about parents bribing coaches to buy admission for their kids to top colleges.

“A Worthy Life? With Me It Was Always To be Done in Words.”

Though I have been busy, perhaps overbusy, all my life, it seems to me now that I have accomplished little that matters, that the books have never come up to what was in my head, and that the rewards—the comfortable income, the public notice, the literary prizes, and the honorary degrees—have been tinsel, not what a grown man should be content with.

John McIntyre: “You Will Not Love Being Edited…”

John McIntyre, an editor at the Baltimore Sun, posted this on his blog, You Don’t Say, on May 2, 2018.
I saw a tweet this morning from the proprietor of an editing service who said, “Editing should be a positive experience! Never settle for less.” A prompt response came from @paulwiggins: “Never hire me if all you seek is a positive experience.”

I agree with Mr. Wiggins. Nobody enjoys being edited. You don’t enjoy being edited. I don’t enjoy being edited.