I have been a journalist since I was 15 years old (I was the assistant bureau chief of the Idaho Falls Bureau of the Deseret News–a Salt Lake City Newspaper that circulated in IF. I gave myself the title. It was a two-person bureau and my boss Joe Markham, was bureau chief. Hence, by default, I was assistant bureau chief (rather than “the kid that helps out in the office). My job was to write local news late at night or at 4:30 a.m. for the afternoon edition of the paper. I would type the information into a big old noisy, grouchy teletype machine which translated the keystrokes into holes in a narrow never-ending roll of paper tape. Once my story was written, I would contact the D. News newsroom in Salt Lake City (by typing in a code on the teletype). What ever editor was doing “state news” on that shift would receive the story, acknowledge it, and more often than not, give me some advice about writing news stories. AND (I’m finally getting to the point) MORE OFTEN THAN NOT THE ADVICE WAS “WRITE SHORTER LEDES (LEAD PARAGRAPHS).” It became a habit for me to write the shortest first graph I could. This practice was re-enforced when I was a correspondent for United Press International in Buenos Aires. If there were a breaking story that merited doing so, we sent news by cable (telegram). Cable rates were 35 cents a word. So we learned to write short, pithy ledes. We also learned that prefixes and suffixes were counted as one word. So we’d write such weird neologisms as “Uncan (“can’t ” counted as two words) youward (“send you” is two words) details xxx until 0200 GMT. -30-” (Thirty was the age old news writer’s word for “the end”. That came from the time back in the days of handset type when the printer would use a 30-dash to separate one column of information to another. We had to write out the punctuation as words. But “period” was “stop.” If you aren’t thoroughly confused, please write back and I’ll unclarify it some more.
Dr. Larry day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co