There is a Computer Chronicles story I have been dining out on for decades, especially any time I am being micced up for a TV appearance. My voice is loud and booming. During a sound check, a Chronicles sound engineer once said, "Paul, the reason you wear a mic is so that you don't have to speak directly to the people at home. Could you bring it down a little?"

After 143 years, Possibly The End Of The Tech

[Note to regular linear readers: You may have already noticed the version of this item placed between the end of the September 4 column and the start of the August 28 column. I needed to post it as background for a meeting. So, if you’re the kind of person who flies off the end of the runway, you can skip this one.]

The Tech is MIT’s student newspaper, offering continuous news service since 1881 (hence the slogan that starts my column every week). In 1973-74 I was editor-in-chief of Vol. 93; I also helped pay for, arrange and publicize the Centennial Celebration in1981. I fear there will not be a bicentennial in 2081 or maybe even a newspaper this year. The headlines: drenched and depowered servers. Very little staff in the Covid aftermath. Expenses exceed revenue, Read more about The Tech’s Existential Opportunity.

About Writing 3: The Stylebook in My Head

(Length Warning)

There are many writing stylebooks; too many to mention.

But there is only one I was simultaneously paid and ordered to memorize, and chastised severely and publicly for failure to follow: the AP/UPI Joint Stylebook, circa 1975.

For example, (I may have mentioned this before): there is almost no sentence in which the word “that” cannot be removed. “He said he remembered that he had done it,” is shorter and means the same if it is “He said he remembered he had done it.” I have spent four decades pruning the word “that” out of my copy and that (oops!) of others.

“Only buses and trains are due,” said my UPI boss. “The company failed due to management incompetence,” a frequently recurring trope, should be expressed as, “The company failed because of management incompetence.”

Never imply causation. “Meanwhile, elsewhere in Boston,” was almost always intended to imply causation or connection. If you can prove either of those things, explain WHY you have added the “elsewhere” information. Or be more direct: “As a result of the fire, trains were stopped.”

On the more informal radio wire, you could say “Jones said the budget was over three million dollars in the red.” But on the more formal newspaper wire, “There was a deficit of more than $2.97 million,  according to Jones.” Now, even the New York Times has given in, and allows “over” as a synonym for “more than.”

 UPI’s Don Davis must be rolling in his grave, picturing a bag of money floating in the air, an image he frequently invoked when chiding writers for violating the rule.

About Writing 2: Inverted Pyramid

There are some shibboleths in journalism. The first sentence should answer the four w’s: Who, What, When and Where. Great ledes (that’s how we spell it, to prevent confusion with the molten lead once used to set type) also include Why, when available.

Another is that the story should be an inverted pyramid: the most important information first, the least important last. This was done so that illiterate press operators (yes, there were such) could cut stories in the pressroom without editorial intervention.

It is still done because a busy reader may not finish the story, but should walk away with the most important information.

Pardon me if I have told this story before (perhaps even recently). When I worked at the Bank of America in 1977, memos were a thing. Generally, they were written like good paragraphs. Topic sentence, information, concluding sentence. Action requests came at the end.

I wrote mine as inverted pyramids, starting with what I wanted done. Most important information first, least last. This so impressed several of the senior VPs I worked for that they asked me to write memos for them and teach their assistants how to do it.

Memos, I feel certain, have gone the way of Dodos, but the inverted pyramid is not a bad idea for your emails either. Start with what you want done, then explain how and why. You could throw in When and Where if you like 

Forbes The Predictor

Apropos of last week’s item on predicting the future: Daniel Dern passed on an article about the death of American computer magazines. It reminded me of Jim Forbes, who told me this well before the Internet began its deadly work: “There is no Toaster Magazine. At the turn of the century there were dozens of auto magazines when autos were new; now there are only two. When the novelty wears off, there will be no computer magazines.” He was just a decade or two early.

Sad Newspaper News

The United States has lost one-fourth of its newspapers since 2004. And today, more than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties have no newspaper and no alternative source of credible information on critical issues—with two-thirds of all counties lacking a daily newspaper.

Adventures in Ex Post Editing

From my friend and colleague Robert Malchman:

In the NY Times obituary of Raquel Welch  there is now this sentence:  “She even called her 2010 book, a memoir and self-help guide, Beyond the Cleavage.” When I read it yesterday, it described the book as "a memoir cum self-help guide.”

I guess I wasn't the only person who thought there was some ambiguity there because Welch was certainly the source of a great deal of cum self-help guidance over the years.  Someone at The Times obviously got their hands on the line and pulled off the change.