Journalism and the price of progress

This is a guest blog by Judy Wieder, former editor-in-chief of The Advocate, the first woman to hold that position; and author of the memoir Random Events Tend To Cluster, a look at her life in the tumultuous years of fighting for human – and animal – rights. 
Research for Random Events Tend To Cluster

Necessity truly is the mother of invention. This includes the biggest invention of the millennium: the World Wide Web.  Slowly revealing itself as a miracle of communication—though one that’s hell-bent on replacing all other communications—the miraculous WWW has many sides, some bright as the sun, others murky as the night.

Officially established in the late 80s, by the early 2000s, a series of global catastrophes (natural and man-made) thrust the web into our lives like a speeding ambulance. Whether using its communication tools to find people lost amid the rubble of deadly terrorist attacks, or buried under the boulders of sudden earthquakes, or stranded on their rooftops after hurricanes, or swirling in the aftermath of  tsunamis—our need to locate and rescue each other made the Internet an information hub of unsurpassed  proportions.

Then the internet began speeding up the news coverage. The minute something happened anywhere, people knew about it everywhere. But is that always good? Something got lost in the immediacy of absolutely everything. And that something was our understanding.

Excerpt from chapter 10 of Random Events Tend To Cluster:

“Thankfully, amid Hurricane Katrina’s worst screw-ups in the history of emergencies, some agencies and individuals respond heroically. The Coast Guard rescues 34,000 stranded survivors. The Humane Society and other animal groups save more than 15,000 animals left behind by evacuees who thought they’d only be gone for a day.

From the ashes of government failures, new technologies for better crisis response are created. Emergency websites, maps, blogs, chat rooms, and help lines are posted and updated—all creating one online disaster community that will soon facilitate the rescue of so many people buried in 2010’s Haiti and 2015’s Nepal earthquakes; as well as those caught in 2017’s Hurricanes, Harvey and Maria.

As tech becomes the story of the new millennium, for me it becomes a good door through which I can leave my work of nearly 15 years. An LGBT Internet company buys our parent company. As with most online media, the “editorial wall” standing between content and advertising, blows over completely. Everywhere I look this once paramount wall is replaced by some mercurial gibberish ushered in by computers, the Internet, cellphones, tablets, and social media. The “highway of information,” as the Internet was once called, is now a shifty piece of work snapping up sound bites of things that have already taken place. For a nanosecond, we think we know something; we even pass it along to others who are grateful because now they think they know something. But, really, we’re all just echoes. What does it mean if we don’t understand it? And how can we understand it without context, backstory, investigation, questioning, and real analysis by professionals who know something to begin with and are willing to study to find out more? Without the connections that surround each breaking-news event, awareness goes on a very undernourished saga. Uncontextualized content is a moody, excitable thing that will leave us all anxious and starving.

Privately, I continue wondering how long we journalists are going to be okay with our content fighting for air amid a playground of advertising and product placement. Without authentic anything, who is going to be our Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye) who grabs the media before it plunges way past mediocracy and crashes hard into clear evidence of a society in the toilet.”

Excerpt (c)  Random Events Tend To Cluster

Published by Lisa Hagan Books, 2017 www.lisahaganbooks.com

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3 Sins of Bullshit Writing

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from Charles Euchner’s KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (click on title to read more)

If you don’t know what your ideas are, if you haven’t flushed out details or set your purpose clearly, you might commit one, two or all three sins of bullshit writing. And that, says Euchner, is when “things get ugly. When we try to bull our way through sentences and paragraphs.”

The 3 deadly sins of bullshit writing are:

•We repeat ourselves.

•We use vague phrasing – adjectives and generalizations – instead of clear crisp logic                and details.

•We ramble, piling words and phrases, with a hope we will discover some telling detail  or concept, but usually moving further and further away from the point.

 

When you feel any of this creeping in, you know you’ve lost the grip somehow. Backtrack and flush the idea, plotting, character development, background research and how you are going to tell you story. We suggest beginners start with the beginning, move on to the middle and then give us the end.

If you see any of those those 3 deadly sins popping up a lot in that book in your hand, you may want to put it down and go get another. Life’s short and there are just too many great books to read.

Join us every Thursday on Twitter with the hashtag

#ThursdayWrites and tell us what you’re working on. 

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WRITING SHORT: He Wasn’t Born With It, He Learned.

After 27 years at the New York Times, the incessant need for space was like water running over a stone and Holland, through the sheer practice of his craft, learned how, as the San Francisco Chronicle so eloquently said, the
“remarkable ability to conjure up the essence
of a composer or a piece of music in a few deftly Bernard Holland New York Times, Something I Heard, music critic, Yo-Yo Ma,
chosen words. He is, I think, an aphorist of
unparalleled virtuosity.”

But don’t believe us. Read the book. See how he does it. Learn by watching; there are few better teachers than this one. Click here: Something I Heard

And until the book arrives, he’s given three solid pieces of writing advice below to get you started on the short life, writing for the age of social media. Never before has it been so important to boil your idea down to the essence and in the process, concentrating its message and power.

Writing Short Tips from a Master Bernard Holland, Something I Heard, Chopin, music critic

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THE ART OF WRITING SHORT

TIPS FROM A MASTER

Former New York Times Chief Critic Bernard Holland, author of

SOMETHING I HEARD, is much celebrated for his ability to capture a composer or performer in, what the San Francisco Chronicle called, “a few deftly chosen words.”

In an almost 30-year career at the New York Times, Holland had to make 400-word reviews sing nightly.

Few can do it.

(Another great practitioner was the late architecture critic at The New Yorker, Brendan Gill.)

In age of twitter and wordpress, you best be able to write short too.

Here are a few tips from a Master, or Maestro, whichever:

1.  Never state the obvious. For example, don’t start your piece with “I went to an important concert last night” We know it’s important or why would you be there?

2.  Write it, Read it. Cut it. Mercilessly (Awk! An adverb.) Take out every extra word that does not forward the action or thought.

3.  Use words, of course, but use the right word. Don’t use an obscure or big word to impress. Don’t use long phrases and write around the point. Choose the word that gets right on top of what you want to say – provocative or not – and press the button.

(Or in this case click on the book)Bernard Holland New York Times, Something I Heard, Bach, Mahler, music critic, music appreciation, classical music critic, Linda Ronstadt, American Orchestras, Yo-Yo Ma, The crowd shouted more Holland
We respond.

http://www.shadowteams.com/#!bernardholland/c17zu

http://shoutout.wix.com/so/cL38kuqT

Book Promotions and War

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/Beth Wareham

I have nothing against The New York Times. I have nothing against the former New York Times reporter Judy Miller either, except both helped drive the United States into the stupidest war we have ever known. (Not that any have been that great, save the Hitler one.)

During that glorious period of American history known as “Shock and Awe,” Judy Miller wrote a book called “Germs,” pinning the recent mailings of ricin to Middle Eastern terrorists. The book’s editor was the famous Alice Mayhew at Simon and Schuster. There was little to question in the bonafides of these two women.

The New York Times and Simon & Schuster did their work as good capitalists and sold the HELL out of that book. Internal Times emails promoted the book to staffers and announced Judy’s latest television appearances. In retrospect, the two companies were working together in a symphony of misinformation worthy of Goebbels.

This was a kind of a “shock and awe” publishing and there was only one problem: the entire ricin premise was false. The New York Times embraced Judy Miller’s assumptions about the poison and helped pave the way to that sad moment when Colin Powell faced the U.N. What a shit show it was.

Later, The New York Times would excoriate Judy in print, turning their back on her the day she was released from prison for not revealing her sources. The New York Times had given Judy full reign and support to promote her germ theory: Now Maureen Dowd was allowed to guillotine her in a column unlike any ever seen in the paper’s history.

Now, Judy has joined forces with the formidable Alice Mayhew again. Judy wants “corrections” to the “narrative.” I say the only thing anyone should be looking for here is redemption, redemption for the piles of dead that litter the Middle East.

Come on, journalism, stop failing us. Stop your narcissism and do what is best for your country. You are also in a kind of sacred service and from where I sit, Judy and The New York Times broke their vows.

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The New York Times Will Never Cover Publishing without their Dreams of Bestsellers

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http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/public-editor/publishing-battle-should-be-covered-not-joined.html?_r=1

The New York Times is simply not the place to look for publishing insights. First, everyone that writes for the paper has a dream that looks like the one above. That’s right, that old white guy is receiving his Nobel Prize. Folks at the Times also get riled up over such words as Pulitzer, National Book Critics Association, huge advance, Andrew Wiley, multiple book deal and of course, lunch with my agent.

The New York Times is also full of reporter/writers who do not necessarily make a huge amount of money. Their platform – The New York Times – gave many a chance to add  $50,000, $100,000, $500,000 – to their annual income, if they could sell a book proposal to a large publishing company. Many could. Publishers scooped them up like chocolate almond ice cream: They bought houses and sent kids to college on publishing advances.

Alternatively, The New York Times was hugely disrupted by the digital revolution. The New York Times has done a magnificent job of wrapping their heads around what must be done. But that doesn’t mean their hearts are there yet.

So, get your publishing information from somewhere else for awhile. Or, better yet, go write a great book while the whole thing blows over.

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