February 20, 2003

Write it Again, Sam

Given the name of these humble scribblings, I can't pass up the opportunity to point to Chip Scanlan's latest column, in which he argues that "just because journalism is 'the first rough draft of history' that shouldn't give writers -- and their editors -- an excuse to publish their first drafts every time."

Scanlan, who teaches newswriting at the Poynter Institute, points out correctly that most "newswriting is the product of a first draft culture" that values speed and brevity over revision and depth.

"The most compelling argument for revision," says Scanlan, is illustrated by "a piece of advice that the editor of the Wall Street Journal gave to a new editor toiling away one night on a story."

"Remember," Barney Kilgore told Michael Gartner, "the easiest thing for the reader to do is to quit reading."

Good writing alone will not save newspapers, but it might keep a few more eyeballs on the pages.

Bob Baker, a Los Angeles Times reporter who publishes Newsthinking, an online newsletter about journalistic nuts and bolts, is chronicling his return to reporting after years of editing.

Baker's openness about his difficulty during the transition, which he labels his rehab, of resurrecting dormant writing skills illuminates the thoughtfulness and care a good writer puts into his work. [Read it here.]

Posted by Tim Porter at February 20, 2003 07:29 AM