Creative Writing 401: The New York Times had an entertaining and inventive story on the front page today about the future of the period. That’s right, the period — the punctuation mark we use to signal a full pause at the end of sentences.
The story, written out of the London bureau by Times’ reporter Dan Bilefsky, said instant messaging, Twitter and other digital communication forms may be imperiling the period. (Never fear, though, alliteration is alive and well!)
“The conspicuous omission of the period in text message and in instant messaging on social media…is a product of the punctuation-free staccato sentences favored by millennials — and increasingly their elders…”
The best part of the story, the most wickedly creative part, is it was almost completely devoid of periods. Bilefsky pulled it off so shrewdly I didn’t even notice until I was more than halfway through the 17-column-inch story. As far as I could tell, Bilefsky used a period only twice in the story — both times when he wanted to imbue the preceding word with emphasis. For example, he said: “Can ardent fans of punctuation take heart in any part of the period’s decline? Perhaps.”
In that context, the period adds weight and profundity…well, at least as much profundity as the word “perhaps” is capable of eliciting.
Bilefsky’s “kicker” — his final sentence — was a killer: “Now all we need to know is, what’s next to go? The question mark”
Another outstanding NYT story — one that only The Times would conceive of and properly execute — was a profile of Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s wife of 30 years.
Journalism 301: Maybe you’ve read KC Star sportswriter Pete Grathoff’s “For Pete’s Sake” column, usually a short, light-and-frothy online offering that makes a point and then segues into related Tweets and such. Yesterday’s piece, which went up in the afternoon, was much more provocative than usual because Grathoff contacted an event and security consulting firm with experience in estimating crowds. After looking at photos from the World Series parade route and the ensuing rally at Union Station, the consultant, Alexandar Kollaritsch, estimated the crowd that day at 255,000. That’s a far cry from the Kansas City Sports Commission’s estimate of 500,000 and Mayor Sly James’ estimate of 800,000.
Regardless of what you might think about the crowd estimates, this was an attention-getting story that tens of thousands of people must have clicked on yesterday. And to my delight, the editors recognized a “talker” when they saw one (they undoubtedly reacted to the number of hits, too), and they elevated the story to the front page of today’s print edition.
Now that was a bold stroke. The story was surely the best read in today’s paper.
Sportswriting 201: After failing to produce a column the night of the latest Yorlando Ventura meltdown, KC Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger shook off his somnolence today and had an insightful column on the Royals’ pathetic offense. Among other things, Mellinger said three of the Royals’ regular hitters — Kendrys Morales, Alcides Escobar and Cheslor Cuthbert — are hitting and getting on base at a rate that is well below the league average. In other words, they stink and are dragging the team down.
Journalism 101: Two of The Star’s most able and veteran reporters, Jefferson City correspondent Jason Hancock and City Hall reporter Lynn Horsley, had excellent stories in the last two days, but both made a basic journalistic misjudgment. In stories referencing votes by public bodies, they failed to report who voted and how they voted.
Hancock’s story, in today’s paper, included a reference to a Missouri Clean Water Commission vote in February to revoke the permit of an animal feeding lot in northern Missouri. The vote was important because it illustrated the importance of having a strong public representation on the commission at a time when the Missouri General Assembly has voted to decrease the number of public representatives and increase the number representing the agriculture and mining industries.
Hancock referenced the commission’s 4-2 vote to revoke the permit, but he didn’t say how many of the four voters were public representatives and how many were industry representatives…In an email today, he told me three of the four commissioners voting to revoke the permit were public representatives — which illustrated his point about the importance of a strong public representation. He also said he had made a mistake in not reporting details of the vote.
Horsley’s story, which appeared Thursday, was about a four-hour debate by two City Council committees on a proposed investment of up to $27 million in the 18th and Vine District. This is a big deal, and it’s controversial: Some council members see the proposal as a vital infusion into the district, which has never reached its anticipated potential, while others see it as pouring more money down the drain.
Eight council members participated in the joint committee vote, and they knotted at 4-4, which at least temporarily put the brakes on the ordinance. Horsley reported the 4-4 standoff high in the story, but she never named the members of the two committees or how each voted. So, Kansas City residents who read that story had no idea if their council representatives were involved or how they voted.
Like Hancock, Horsley gave me the voting breakdown in an email. Here it is…
Voting yes: Council members Lee Barnes, Scott Taylor, Scott Wagner and Quinton Lucas.
Voting no: Council members Kevin McManus, Heather Hall, Jolie Justus and Katheryn Shields.
This failure to report the breakdown on critical governmental-body votes has been going on a long time at The Star. The reporters invariably explain it by saying they didn’t have enough space, but I don’t buy that. These votes are usually some of the most important elements of government stories from the readers’ perspective, and the reporters should include the vote breakdowns and eliminate other material, if necessary.