Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stay restless

Everyone in our newsroom has done good work. Even some great work. But nobody has done their best work. I believe that you have to come into the newsroom every day wanting to be better than the day before, wanting to push yourself toward your best work.

That's one reason I love the spirit of what jazz great Artie Shaw is saying here. He and his band had a huge hit with "Begin the Beguine" in the 1930s. In Ken Burns' 'Jazz' documentary, Shaw says:

"I still wanted to play music. And the audience was saying, 'Play what you're playing. Play the same thing over and over. We like that.' And they never could get it through their heads that what they liked was something I was doing on my way to getting better."

Friday, February 26, 2010

The online community

Great eye for a story, great reporting, great use of dialogue (from interviews and message boards). And I can't tell you exactly why this piece from Michael Kruse at the St. Petersburg Times is a great piece of storytelling, or I'll spoil it. You just have to read it. Notice, too, the care taken with the headline.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A matter of fact

An interesting column from Leonard Pitts Jr. about facts.

Here's the quote I've been mulling:

To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper's online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe.

In other words, does truth exist anymore? Did it ever?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chris Jones talks about his Esquire feature on Roger Ebert

Chris Jones has a long profile of film critic Roger Ebert in this month's Esquire. It's about how Ebert is dealing with cancer that has resulted in, among other things, the loss of his jaw and his ability to speak.

Jones says in an interview with that he was self-conscious about writing about Ebert -- "You're writing about a great writer" -- and was nervous about what the famous critic might say about the piece.

Interesting that Jones was worried about how his subject would react. I would have liked to have seen him address how/whether that influenced anything he wrote.

He didn't address that in the interview, but he did deliver this advice to reporters:

"Come up with a great story idea. Do the reporting. Lots of it. Then, when it's time to write, get out of the way and let the story tell itself.

"Students tend to think of just the writing part of things, but because of my newspaper background I take reporting more seriously. If you have solid reporting then everything else is simple."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Breakdown of a suicide note

Poynter's Roy Peter Clark took the long suicide note of the guy who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas and did a full-blown analysis of the language.

I've never seen this done, and, although it's a critique done at arm's length -- Clark obviously didn't know the pilot, etc. -- it does show that the choices people make when they write can tell significant things about them.

One of the most intriguing, perhaps chilling, things in Clark's analysis is his note that a lot of the writer's phrases are heard every day from politicians and commentators from both sides of the political spectrum. It makes me wonder: Are those people reflecting current thinking in America, and are we living with hundreds of thousands of people who really believe what the pilot believed? Or did the pilot, having listened to that language again and again and again, use it to polish his disenchantment with his perceived enemies?

And lastly: Be sure to read the comments. There is a really interesting discussion going on, reactions to Clark's piece, some people saying Clark never should have written it, and Clark has responded a couple times.

(AP photo)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

'Desert of Death'

Pretty good stuff here (from Minneapolis Star-Tribune, via link from Romenesko via link from, an online-only news site):

A Star-Tribune reporter and photographer went with a National Guard supply unit on a trip across a notoriously dangerous desert. (Link will show you part 3 as the main story; links for parts 1 & 2 are at the right).

I'm most of the way through part 1, and the setup, character description and pace is making for a good read.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Take a chance

Like a lot of people, I love Calvin & Hobbes and have often wondered about how its creator, Bill Watterson, not only could walk away from such a hugely successful endeavor, but could so completely keep to himself -- no merchandising (those little Calvins seen pissing on Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 are bootlegs, of course), no interviews, no public life. (Much to be admired, when you think about it).

Anyway, I figured we'd never hear from the guy until one day you'd read his obituary. But on the 15th anniversary of the retirement of the strip, a reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer -- Watterson lives near Cleveland; would you have guessed? -- took a shot and simply e-mailed Watterson some questions.

And Watterson responded.

"I wasn't very hopeful I'd get a response, that's for sure," reporter John Campanelli said. "But you still gotta try."

Photo courtesy

Monday, February 1, 2010

'A holy profession'

Feeling a little blue? Read this transcript.

It's an interview with Ben Bradlee on NewsHour. I haven't listened to them all, but the audio links on the left look pretty clutch, too.

Here's a sample:

JIM LEHRER: Ben Bradlee is one of America's most famous newspaper editors and he believes the practice of journalism is more than a job.

BEN BRADLEE: I don't mean to sound arrogant, but we're in a holy profession.

JIM LEHRER: A holy profession?

BEN BRADLEE: Yeah and the pursuit of truth is a holy pursuit.