Fifty years ago, in the early hours of 17 June 1972, security guard Frank Wills noticed something was wrong at the Watergate office complex. He called the cops and changed history.
Thank you, Frank Wills. If only things had turned out better for you.
While we’re at it, we should remember legendary police reporter Alfred E. Lewis, who called in the story to the Washington Post, including the detail that the accused men dined on lobster at the Watergate Hotel restaurant before the break-in.
The next time the man on the white horse comes in, he may not be so benign. He could be a real racial hater or a divider of people.
Jim Squires, one-time spokesperson for Ross Perot. Squires made the comment after the 1992 U.S. election, which showed that millions of Americans were ready to go crazy for a thin-skinned, TV-adept billionaire who promised to shake things up in Washington, D.C.
James Ralph was an 18th-century content creator, scratching out a living in England’s New Economy. In an age of political, social and technological upheaval, life could be precarious for those who kept the printing presses stoked with words.
Writing in 1758, Ralph said “there is no Difference between the Writer in his Garret, and the Slave in the Mines; but that the former has his Situation in the Air, and the latter in the Bowels of the Earth: Both have their Tasks assigned them alike: Both must drudge and starve; and neither can hope for Deliverance.”
The quote comes from The Age of Authors: An Anthology of Eighteenth-Century Print Culture, a remarkable collection of writing about writing and the plight of writers. Editor Paul Keen writes that Ralph was “often dismissed as a Grub Street hack writer,” but managed to produce some important work, including the essay quoted above.
The essay, The Case of Authors By Profession or Trade, Stated, marks the decline of the era when writers relied on patrons. The new commercial model of publishing was generating profits that were being denied to those slaves in the garrets, Ralph argued.
In the new world of letters, anyone, it seemed, could be an author – even women. (Anyone, that is, who belonged to the educated classes. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the literacy rate in Great Britain rose above 60 per cent.)
People are getting more information than they ever have, whether it’s in ink or electronically. People want to read, and they want to read without stumbling. And that’s where the copy editor comes in. The copy editor is the bridge who keeps the writer from tripping up.
You can find most anything online, including a million reasons to believe that most folks these days think clear writing went out with the Lindy Hop. But here – on the Internet! – is proof you don’t have to leave your readers stumbling around like a bunch of drunks in a sack race.
And more hard truths about the use and abuse of modern opinion research.
By Tom Barrett TheTyee.ca
Election polls are fun. They can help you understand why politicians do and say the things they do. They can help you decide how to vote. And as long as the parties have access to polling, you should too.
But, as campaign polls proliferate like dandelions in April, they also become the source of a vast amount of the hooey that gets spewed by pundits.
Pollster Bob Penner has a long history of working for election campaigns. In a recent interview, he said the “literacy around polling” is pretty low.
Polling numbers naturally bounce around within their margin of error. “If you do the same method day after day, each day [the result] will be different,” said Penner, president and CEO of Stratcom. “That’s called sampling error.”
But if a pollster goes on TV and says the bouncing numbers are just sampling error, “he wouldn’t be on TV,” Penner said.
“So he’s got to construct a reason for why the numbers moved other than the probable real reason, which is just a natural variation in the polling method. So he says it’s because of the ads they ran today. Or it’s because of the media story that was on last night. Or it’s because this guy endorsed him. And that’s almost never true. It’s almost never the reason.
“But they’re out there saying it and people are at home consuming it and saying, ‘well, those ads really moved the numbers.’ ”
My favourite writing coach, Roy Peter Clark, has written a splendid tribute to William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well.
Zinsser’s best-known book is now in its 30th anniversary edition, having sold more than a million copies. Seeing as it’s probably the best book on writing nonfiction, that’s nice to know.
Writing on Poynter.org, Clark celebrates two pages of On Writing Well that reproduce a marked-up draft of the book.
For the record, they are pages 10 and 11 in my edition. I’ve studied them until my eyes bleed. I’ve shared them with countless aspiring writers, young and old. There have never — I say never! — been two pages in a writing text as practical, persuasive and revealing as pages 10 and 11. Like the music ethos articulated by the likes of Miles Davis and Tony Bennett, Zinsser demonstrates in writing that there are notes in a composition (words in his case) that the artist should leave out.
Pages 10 and 11 show how Zinsser slashed words and phrases that most of us would lazily let stand. The result is tighter, clearer and more powerful. “Faced with such a variety of obstacles” becomes “faced with these obstacles.” “He tends to blame himself” becomes “He blames himself.” “Two or three different” becomes “several.”
As Zinsser says, “rewriting is the essence of writing.”