Evergreen

Can you smell it? The faint scent of evergreen―you know, the scent that fills your car when you put one of those tree-shaped deodorizers in it. (Do the still even make them anymore?). Of course, the volatile organic compounds used to release that scent are based on petroleum, not trees.

But, as you’d know if you’d ever been in the dead tree media, evergreens (once known as stories “on the hook” before health and safety removed metal hooks from media offices) are the stories you keep on hand in case of a sudden news shortage. They are timeless stories, with no news hook, that can be used to prevent white space from appearing in the publication.

If you were paying attention, you noticed that I recently ran entirely through my stack of evergreens. Then in a burst of fecundity, I wrote 21 of them.

But it is in the nature of evergreens to disappear into the publication, sometimes en masse.

You will smell evergreen for the next few weeks, should I be subjected to a much desired medical procedure whose name I won’t mention because I fear it has fallen into the same category as The Scottish Play.


Middle Names 2/Polticians

Presidents had pretty obsessive middle initials in the last century. Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman (“no period because the S doesn’t stand for anything,” according to the grammar police), Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon. It started to peter out with

Gerry Ford (I know it was R. because I was a journalist. Did You?)

Carter, only when his mother called, “James Earl Carter.” (I don’t remember Jimmy E. Carter, are rarely James E. Carter).

 Ronald W. Reagan: rare.

The first George Bush, never (until he was retronymed George H.W. Bush to distinguish him from his idiot son).

The Library of Congress list of presidents  agrees with me: after Ford, no middle initials (they could have left his off as well).

Next Week: Middle Names 3/UPI and AP


Stylebook Anger

I have been angry with the AP and New York Times Stylebooks since they caved in and allowed “over” as a synonym for “more than,” as in “over a billion dollars.” Every time I read it, I picture hovering over a pile of bills. OK for the now non-existent radio wire, but not for print. That distant sound you hear is standards falling.

And while we’re at it, a bus or train is due. Everything else is because. “The ship sank due to the hole in it’s side.” No, “The ship sank because of the hole in its  side.”


Manhunt 2/ In the Theater: Eyewitness

 

I was put in mind of this by Apple TV’s Manhunt: The Search for John Wilkes Booth, about the search for Lincoln’s assassin.

According to Wikipedia:

While it is traditionally held that Booth shouted the Virginia state motto, Sic semper tyrannis! ("Thus always to tyrants") either from the box or the stage, witness accounts conflict.

There is similar uncertainty about what Booth shouted next, in English: either "The South is avenged!” “Revenge for the South!”, or “The South shall be free!” Two witnesses remembered Booth's words as: “I have done it!”

What? How could there be any doubt? There were 1,000 witnesses in the audience that night. Well, this is why all police and lawyers say that eyewitness testimony is bunk: the least reliable form of evidence.

There’s a room full of grade schoolers to whom I taught this lesson four decades ago. I read about an experiment conducted at the FBI training academy, and performed it on the class.

I was talking to the students, and had arranged for a student to run into the classroom, shout “not enough hot water,” slam his fist on the table and leave. I asked the students to write down what he said, what he did, and how he was dressed. There were 30 different, widely varying answers.


The Long And The Short Of It

One of the shibboleths of the journalism racket, back in my day, back in the day of dead-tree media, was that “Every story you are interested in is too short. Every story you are not interested in is too long.”

The promise of the Internet was to end that dilemma. Physical media no longer imposed length limits. And Hyperlinks (as we used to call links) meant that, instead of a capsule review of prior events in each new story, you could simply point at the prior stories. Who knew TL;DR would become a thing.

Hard as it may seem to believe, I try to limit my article length in this column. When I finish an essay, if it’s over 250 words, I try to cut it or trim it. Lately (as with AI this week) I find myself helplessly writing long, then determinedly splitting up the results.

Maybe it’s like the cliffhanger in a serial: tune in next week to find out what happens.


An Illustration At Last: Attention Journalists


What a perfect illustration of the inverted pyramid style of writing,

On this subject, this story is on my Schindler on Journalism page, which I suspect most of you have not visited. The relevant portion goes like this:

A half-century ago, as an undergraduate at MIT, I was frequently asked why I wanted to be a journalist. This is the best answer I ever gave.

One day on the subway to Boston, a well-meaning friend of mine asked “How can you waste your fine mind on a trivial pursuit like journalism?”

At that moment, I realized why I loved journalism and always would. I told her, “It is a challenge, even to my fine mind. You witness disordered reality, and impose order on it. You are presented with a mélange of facts too large merely to record and regurgitate. So, you impose order on disordered reality, and do so in the correct written form within the time allotted. I believe that is a challenge I will wish to accept, the accomplishment of which will satisfy me, for a lifetime.

-――――-

And it did.

Recently, Jarka Kunova posted a graphic that she said was about storytelling. Well, let me tell you, it’s about an inverted pyramid, the basic form of American journalism writing. And it perfectly demonstrates why I devoted my fine mind to the challenge of journalism in this lifetime.

Inverted pyramid


Right Column Redux: Schindler Jingle/Dream of a Lifetime

The column to the right on this blog contains permanent content, most of which has appeared at one time or another in the main body. I’ve decided to include a reminder.

Schindler Jingle/Dream of a Lifetime

For 60 years, I dreamed of having my name sung, musical-ID style. I never worked as a DJ at a station rich enough to afford a jingle, but during Covid I paid PAM for “Paul Schindler, never been on the radio,” to the tune of the old KGW jingle (sung by the Johnny Mann singers): “Firstname, Lastname, 62 KGW.” And of course, I still know how to say KGW out loud; just think “My Pay Check.” I never said it on the radio; just sometimes at sign-on of the sister TV station.

If you've ever heard the answering  message on my cellphone, you've already heard the jingle.


More Hardboiled Dialog

I find I can’t help myself. The dialog in Monsieur Spade is so good this may become a regular feature. Sam is in italics. Regular type for other characters.

I don’t think we’re having the same conversation.

As a private detective you have the same legal authority in France as a rat catcher. In my case they’re one and the same.

(To an awful human being who says he may move to Norway) I hear Norway needs more assholes.

(Is that a threat?) Whoever taught you English didn’t teach you the difference between a threat and a promise.

Listen with your ears and not your mouth.

For some the truth is an insult.

Like searching for a needle in a needle stack.


Great Hardboiled Dialog

Monsieur Spade, available on Acorn and AMC+ (which you can subscribe to through Amazon) imagines Dashell Hammit’s detective retired in France years after his last adventure in San Francisco (which is why he never met Phillip Marlowe). A tip o’ the PSACOT Hat to the creators/writers, Scott Frank and Tom Fontana, who have managed to perfectly capture genre dialog, so much so that I have been compulsively writing down quotes. From the early episodes (Spade’s responses are in Italics)

Drop dead. I’m working on it.

There you go, impugning my war record. To have a war record, you must first have gone to war.

(To Spade after he wakes someone in the early morning hours) “Is your clock broken? Why wake me up?”

I don’t care. Not caring doesn’t make you bulletproof.

(another character) I treat her like any woman I despise. I respect her when she’s here, and lust for her when she’s not.