My Favorite Movie About Journalism

By Mark Mittelstadt

My favorite continues to be The Paper. In just under two hours, the 1994 film touches on multiple journalism idiosyncrasies and truths: the rush to get (and of getting) the story; professional jealousies; the dysfunctional daily news planning meeting, predictably held too close to deadline; most journalists cheating loved ones out of time and attention as they chase the love/hate of their chosen profession; the fight over seemingly minor things (a staffer’s chair, a stapler); reliance on Coke (although my preference was Diet Coke) to get through a hectic news day. 

“You Could Hear People Laughing and Cursing and Then Heading for the Local Bar”

Barney Collier about working next to Jimmy Breslin at the New York Herald Tribune and the HBO show “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.”

Our bruised and beaten desks were next to each other in the back left corner of the New York Herald Tribune newsroom and I enjoyed overhearing the professional brilliance of Breslin as an interviewer, a writer, a raconteur, a mentor, and a fearless truth teller, which often led to a lot of humor and fun.

“I’m the Writer. I’m Important, Too.”

Joe Flint, media reporter for the Wall Street Journal, tweeted on 1/30/19:

I usually stop reading a story as soon as the writer works themselves into the piece. These days that often mean I don’t get past the first or second paragraph.

While editing the Washingtonian, I shared Flint’s feelings about writers saying “Look at me.” I had one good writer who liked to liberally tell the reader “he told me.” Usually I’d give him one or two “he told me” mentions and change the rest to “he said.”

“We Need a Story,” the Editor Says

Newsroom Ode #2: Reporter on deadline

By Don Nelson of the Methow Valley News

“We need a story,” the editor says,

As if “we” included me

As a decision-maker

In any meaningful way.


“Make it a news feature,” the editor says,

As if that meant anything.

Editors don’t know, either.

They just like to say it

Because it makes them sound

Authoritative and knowledgeable,

But of course they’re not.


“By 5 o’clock,” the editor says,

With 10 sources, nut graph, back story,

The Trumpian Dictionary: Words We Almost Never Saw Before

By Mike Feinsilber

Maybe  it’s coincidental. I’m not blaming Trumpy for this phenomenon and—heavens forbid—not giving him credit. But ever since January 20, 2017, I’ve noticed in the papers that I read—the New York Times and the Washington Post—the frequent appearances of some words I rarely had read before. Here’s my collection. You’re invited to add to it in the comment box.

Dog whistle
The Merriam-Webster dictionary: “a subtly aimed political message which is intended for, and can only be understood by, a particular group.”

Russell Baker on How He Learned to Write a Good Story

Russell Baker wrote some wonderful pieces about writing. One, titled “Uncle Harold,” is in Russell Baker’s Book of American Humor, published in 1993 by W.W Norton. The book is well worth seeking out—it’s 608 pages of humor by many of the 20th century’s most interesting writers. But it’s not easy to find. Amazon offers it for $53.96 but it’s “temporarily out of stock.” Try your local library.

Diane Athill RIP: “All the Experiences Stored in My Head Will Be Gone”

Diane Athill Dies at 101; Wrote Cleareyed Memoir of Love and Sex

Diana Athill, an Englishwoman who wrote a series of critically lauded memoirs chronicling her romantic and sexual liaisons over much of the 20th century, but who attained international literary celebrity in her 90s with the publication of an installment about the waning of desire, died on Wednesday in London. She was 101.

—New York Times, January 24, 2019
An About Editing and Writing post from August 6, 2015:

Why Old Editors Write Books

Russell Baker RIP: “What Are They Like, These Washingtonians?”

Baltimore-raised Pulitzer Prize winner Russell Baker dies at 93

Russell Baker, a Baltimore-raised, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, essayist and biographer who hosted the series “Masterpiece Theatre” on PBS and had a long-running column in The New York Times, died at his Leesburg, Va., home Monday, his son said.
An About Editing and Writing post from August 14, 2014:

When Russell Baker Made Fun of the High Priests of Journalism

Russell Baker, a columnist for the New York Times from 1962 to 1998, turns 89 today. Along with his newspaper work, he wrote more than a dozen books—the best known is Growing Up. Both the New York Times columns and Growing Up won Pulitzer Prizes. From 1992 to 2004, he also hosted Masterpiece Theater on PBS.

Why Newspaper Editors Would Be Happy With Joe Biden as the Democratic Nominee But Wary of Hickenlooper, Gillibrand, and Klobuchar

The New York Times says 22 Democrats are running for president, or are all but certain to run, or likely to run, or might run. They range from former vice president Joe Biden to former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.

If newspaper headline writers could pick the nominee, their favorites likely would be Biden, Brown, Castro, Harris, Booker, or Warren.

At the bottom of the list would be Hickenlooper, Gillibrand, and Klobuchar. Try to fit one of them in a one-column head on page one.

Headline writers have been lucky for a long time: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama. All pretty easy to fit in all kinds of headlines.

Daniel Schorr on How a Journalist Can Succeed on Television

Schorr was recruited to CBS by Edward R. Murrow.

Having looked with the disdain that real newspaper people had for this entertainment thing called radio and television, I began to enjoy it [working for CBS].

I recall asking a CBS producer for advice. I said, “Tell me, I can write a story, all right, but what is the secret of success for a journalist in television? I mean, how do you do it on television and make it work?”

And he said, “The secret of success in television is sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”