Sunday, September 02, 2012

Peeves . . .

"[Thoughts and] Prayers" "Let us keep the victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers during this time of great difficulty." The 'thoughts and ..." is a sop for the non-theists (aka atheists), the karmists and the telekinetics in the audience, but it sure does take the power out of "prayers." I know, this is a diverse and multicultural society we live in, but aside from Uri Geller, how many non-religious folk are going to find much power in "thoughts"?

'I know it seems cliche, but ..." Not only does it seem cliche, but it also really seems cliche. Like, I mean, y'know? At what point did "cliche" become a freestanding modifier?

'Well' as a midsentence interjection, set off by commas or other "delaying question" to make the reader believe that the writer dimply stating the obvious. "The horse got hotter and hotter as the afternoon on the dusty tral grew longer because it was, well, hot."

"Back in the day"

'Gaffe' It's time to resurrect "mistake."

'Double Down'

'Old school'

'Vintage' (when not referring to a grape crop)

'Iconic' Iconic has a specific meaning that goes way beyond "well-known" or "locally famous" or even plain "famous." It has a metaphysical meaning. This sentence does not need "iconic": "There's a simple reason why she and her husband co-owner Tom Swadley decided to bring new life to the downtown site -- once the home of Bristol’s iconic Woolworth’s Co. store and luncheon counter."

Em dashes where commas to set off clauses work just fine. This sentence does  not need an em dash: "There's a simple reason why she and her husband co-owner Tom Swadley decided to bring new life to the downtown site -- once the home of Bristol’s iconic Woolworth’s Co. store and luncheon counter."

Brackets -- these things: [ ]   [ ]    [ ]   [ ] This sentence does not need brackets: "[The lights will be] a great visual and a great statement." Make it like this: The lights will be "a great visual and a great statement," or somesuch.

Who May Be a Journalist?

Anyone. At any time. Anywhere (in America). Because I'm as much a 1st Amendment Fundamentalist as I can be while agreeing that no one may yell fire in a crowded theater, I know that as a journalist I am no more special than any other American as far as my ability and right to know are concerned. I just have a few skills that help me better to work the angles and keep informed those who don't.

I was reminded of this very sternly by a grizzled, temperamental, fire-breathing, atherosclerotic and not infrequently soused managing editor of a daily newspaper for which I still harbor a fondness even if she is but a shadow of what she once was.

"If you think you're so damn special, you aren't. If you think you're important because you get to waltz into police stations and show up at bloody car crashes and get to carry press card, then get over it or else don't work here."

This was the standard dressing down he gave to all new, young, self-important reporters who forgot that they were getting far less for their work than were most janitors, burger-flippers and convenience store managers. We never connected the fundamental law of supply (young, stupid reporters were a dime a dozen) and demand (there wasn't a whole lot of call for reporters) to our inflated sense of self-esteem. In other words, if we'd thought about the fact that we got to be journalists and still get paid only $90 or $100 a week (in 1976 dollars), we'd have had a whole lot less self-esteem. But, fortunately for newly minted journalists, we never took an econ course in college (nor did we ever take a math course, a foreign language or even the simplest of biology, chemistry or physics classes -- but we could surely by-doggies act like we had -- and we surely could write the hell out of a good tale on a topic about which 15 minutes ago we knew nothing). But I digress.

"Let me tell you the truth, boy," the old ME said as he took a nip from the little bourbon bottle he had stashed in his desk. Newspapers used to have a lot of old-fart characters like this. Where did they all go? "You are no better than the people you're writing for. You don't have any more rights than they do. Your freedom of  the press is their freedom of the press. You're just their representative. If they wanted to go sit in a courtroom all day and see a trial for themselves, they could. If they wanted to go down to the county courthouse and pull their next-door neighbor's property tax bill, they could. There's just two reasons why they don't. So you know why they don't, don't you?"

"I don't guess so, sir," I said, because I really didn't.

"I'll tell you why: First, because they don't know they can. Second, because if they did know they could and they didn't have to work earn a buck, no courtroom would be big enough to hold them all."

He stretched, lit another cigarette, sighed, and continued: "You see, boy, and don't ever forget: You're the people's representative. You report for them, you find out what they need to know know, and you tell them. You better always respect them and you better always remember that you're no better than any of them or I'll kick your cocky ass out of here real quick."

You can tell that I have never forgotten that lecture. And trust me when I tell you that the scene was a whole lot more colorful than I've painted it.

And my point is?

What he said was true, and there are too many journalists in high places who either never got the talk, or else they forgot it. Like that so-called journalist on TV the other night at the GOP convention who said on an open mike that Republicans don't mind partying "while black people drown" (which authorities feared might happen in Nola because of the current hurricane). He not only was a resentful shill for one group of people, he also hated the group of people he'd been assigned to cover. He, like a lot of other journalists, thought he was better that one group of people while being the sanctimonious protector and defender of another group of people whom he also thought were below him.

Heaven help me if I ever forget that talk. And the old editor? He outlasted me by a mile at that newspaper. I think it was his sixth heart attack that finally killed him.