Tag Archives: news

Why I Write What I Write ©

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.

Anyway  that’s why, I write short ledes and generally short fiction pieces.

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

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Man vs. Computer

Ruhl Agbah loved words, and he wanted people to use words correctly in speaking and writing.  He was reasonably adept with social media.  He tweeted a bit, but he assiduously avoided the limelight.

That’s what makes this story so ironic. Ruhl ended up smack dab in the middle of a publicity hater’s nightmare.

Ruhl got into a knock down drag out Internet fight with a computer. The Internet incident made national news.

Ruhl  inadvertently caused his own 15 minutes of fame. A TV talk show host used a plural pronoun with a singular noun on national television.  The host said: “I’ll give each panelist their own chance to speak on this issue.”

That gaff made Ruhl shiver.  Using a plural pronoun with a singular noun on national television was, he felt, like blowing one’s nose into the palm of one’s hand in public.

Ruhl got online and Googled the network’s website. He phoned the number listed there.  A recorded message told him to push a series of  numbers on his keypad to reach the right department. It was frustrating. Rather than waste more time, Ruhl hung up and sent a scorching e-mail to the network’s “contact us” Internet address.

Within minutes Ruhl received an e-mail reply from the network.   This was the computer-generated message: “Thank you for your comment. We take all comments and suggestions seriously…”  Another sentence said, “This website is not monitored. Please do not reply to this message.”

With quivering fingers Ruhl clicked “reply” then typed: “Go straight to !@#$%^, you jerks.”    Within minutes another identical message came from the network: “Thank you for your comment. We take all comments and suggestions seriously…”   And, “This website is not monitored. Please do not reply to this message.”

Ruhl smiled.  “Ohhhhh   Kayyyyy,” he said, and clicked “reply” and typed, “Thank you for nothing.  This e-mail address is not monitored.  Please do not reply to this message.” He pressed “send.”  Within minutes the identical reply came from the network.  Ruhl copied and pasted his message into the “reply” space  and pressed “send” again.

An hour later Ruhl’s inbox was full of identical computer-generated network messages and his repeated replies.  He opened each message to see if it had been written by a human being.  No such luck. All the messages were identical and all had been computer-generated.

By that time Ruhl had calmed down. He felt better.  He had taken a stand in favor of correct grammar, even if it turned out to be a back and forth argument with the television network’s computer.

An hour later the phone rang.

“Hello.”

“May I speak to Mr. Agbah?”

“Speaking.”

“Sir, this is Barbara Brandistone. I’m a reporter with the Associated Press.”

“Oh?”

“Someone here came across a lengthy Internet exchange between you and a national television network.  Would you please tell me about that?”

“It wasn’t an EXCHANGE,” Ruhl said, raising his voice. “I stormed their electronic barricades trying to make human contact, but I failed.”

Ruhl spoke with the AP reporter for another five minutes.  Finally he said, “You’re not going to make a big deal of this, are you?”

“No sir.   I’m just doing a short piece about the Internet.”

If Ruhl was mollified by her reply, he shouldn’t have been.  The AP reporter put Ruhl’s  Internet experience in the lead paragraph of her story.

A few days later when things had calmed down, Ruhl got a tweet.

“I’m here,” he tweeted.

“Mr. Ruhl,  This is Marygliss@. I want to apologize.  Your experience with our system was regrettable.  We have taken steps here at the television network to rectify the situation.”

Ruhl: “That’s good. Thank you.”

Marygliss@: “Not at all, sir, we appreciate your input.”

“Then the network got my message after all.”

“Yes sir.

The two exchanged a few more pleasantries.  Ruhl, happy that he had finally made human contact, signed off.

The next day Ruhl read an article that made his skin crawl.  Cutting edge software techniques, said the article, now allow corporation computers to interact with humans on twitter as if two humans were tweeting. Ruhl called Barbara Brandistone at the AP. She did some digging.  It turned out that Marygliss@, was just a television network computer

.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

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Make Me A Skeptic

“Teach me to doubt the easy answers—the lazy ways of explaining any news event.”

Alfred P. Klausler and John De Mott, eds., “Prayer for Protection from Myself,” The Journalist’s Prayer Book,” Minneapolis, Minn., Augsburg Publishing House, 1972, p. 60.

 

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

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They Beam It Into Your Cortex ©

 

 

Back in 1994 somebody at the New York Times said:

Frankly I don’t give a tinker’s damn how we distribute our

information; I’ll be pleased to beam it to your cortex.”

 

I was standing at the heavily laden buffet table in Healthy Hanks

International House of Hash. It was All-You-Can-Eat-for-$4.95

night. I was loading my plate with a heaping helping of Hanks

Healthy Hash Browns™ when the beam hit my cortex.

A tiny green LED turned on inside my head. Then I heard a

“ding, ding.” It was the kind of sound your computer makes

when you receive an e-mail.

“Darn!” I said.

“What?” asked my wife. Emmaline was standing next to me

at Healthy Hanks buffet table. She was putting three baby

carrots, three pieces of broccoli, and a small slice of turkey on

her plate. Healthy Hank always makes money when Emmaline

comes to All-You-Can-Eat night.

“The New York Times has just beamed some information to

my cortex,” I said.

“Well just ignore it,” said Emmaline.

“I can’t. That little light they installed in my head is blinking,

and a little bell keeps going ‘ding, ding,’” I said.

“Can’t you turn it off until you finish eating?” asked Emmaline.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“They must not have perfected that part of the technology

yet. I guess they figured they’d perfect the cortex-beaming

technology first, and worry about customer reception issues

later.”

“Well why in the world did you sign up the service in the first

place?”

“It took fifteen years and cost the New York Times a billion

dollars to perfect cortex-beaming information technology,” I said.

“The least I could do was to subscribe to the service. With the

New York Times Cortex Beam Information System™ they beam

the latest news straight to my cortex,” I said.

“And I have to eat alone so that you can find out that Barack

Obama has just named Billy Crystal to be U.S. ambassador to

Botswana.”

“I’ll just step outside. I’ll be right back.”

“Go to the men’s room.”

“I might lose the signal.”

“@#$%^&,” said my wife. She rarely swears, but Emmaline

hates to eat alone. I headed out the door to download my

cortex-beamed information from the New York Times.

I walked toward Emmaline’s new car, a Lexus 300XTC.

Just as I started to activate New York Times beamed-to-my

cortex newsline, a gruff voice spoke behind me.

“Don’t turn around. I have a gun,” said the voice.

“Don’t shoot,” I said.

“Give me your wallet and the keys to your Lexus,” said the

voice.

“It’s not my Lexus,” I said.

“I saw you park,” said the voice. “Now give me the keys.”

“It’s my wife’s car. She’s back at the restaurant. I don’t have

the keys.”

“Jerk!” said the voice. Whack! There was a blow on the

head. I was out before I hit the asphalt.

When I woke up my pockets were turned inside out and my

wallet and watch were gone. I stood up. There was an eggsized

lump on my head. I was leaning against Emmaline’s car

when I noticed a little green light and heard a “ding, ding,” in my

head.

I made my way back to Healthy Hanks. Emmaline was

standing near the cash register tapping her foot.

“I got mugged,” I said. “They whacked me on the head and

took my wallet.”

“Oh darling,” said Emmaline, and hugged me.

The police came and I told them what happened. I refused

to go to the emergency room. My head ached, but I didn’t want

anyone to know I was seeing green lights and hearing “ding,

dings,” in my head. I was afraid they’d take me straight to the

booby hatch.

When we got home Emmaline asked, “Well, was the news

worth getting mugged for?”

“What news?” I asked

“The cortex-beamed information from the New York Times.

Was it important?”

“Bless you,” I shouted. “Bless your heart!”

I had forgotten about the cortex beam! What joy! They

wouldn’t drag me off to the booby hatch after all.

I activated the New York Times Cortex Beam Information

System™. It was a story on the latest developments in

hemorrhoid research.

 

 

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

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