Wick Communications

The photo I didn’t run

In Photography on August 3, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Last week, there was a murder in Half Moon Bay. Only it wasn’t a murder. And that last part further complicated an already difficult decision about whether to run a photo I knew would upset some people.

Some explanation is in order.

We don’t have many murders, thankfully. Maybe four in my dozen or more years here. So when arts reporter Sarah Greigo Guz called me one evening to say she stumbled onto a crime scene and the scuttlebutt was that there had been a murder, it was a big deal. We scrambled a news reporter and I made some social media posts, of course.

I also got a call from a local photographer, who said he had photos from the scene. I asked for them and he sent them, and my actual text back to him at the time was: “Wow.”

That is the most impressive photo above… Except I cropped out the “wow” part. Which is an unnatural act for a newspaper editor and required a lot of soul-searching on my part.

What you don’t see, off to the left, is a body under a white tarp. At the time, I was convinced I would run it full frame. That conviction changed over time.

First, I sent the photo around to Wick editors. I would say most people, about 60 percent of those who provided feedback, said they would run it for the same reasons I thought I would. It was big news, it occurred in public, there were likely already photos like it on social media. It wasn’t particularly gory. …

Can you teach writing?

In Books on August 3, 2017 at 2:42 pm

There is a fascinating discussion of the art of teaching young students to write on the New York Times website at the moment. It’s prompted by the fear that young people are worse writers than young people of the past. Among the startling figures: three-quarters of both eighth- and 12-graders lack proficiency in writing, according to one educational study.

Not that this concern is anything new. The Times story asserts that more than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874.

The question is how to promote better writing, particularly at a time when there is so much distraction and seemingly so little attention span.

Some suggest working at the sentence level. Line editing with students. To me, that feels like advanced work and not much fun for people who aren’t really all that invested in being better writers.

The Times story opens with a teacher trying to get student juices flowing by reading Anne Lamott’s classic writing inspirational “Bird by Bird.” You could do worse that that. If you haven’t read it, you really should. As another teacher says, “You hope that by exposing them to great writing, they’ll start to hear what’s going on.”

There is a certain osmosis that goes on when you read. You could read all of Dickens’ work and never create your own “Great Expectations,” of course, but I bet your expectations would be greater nonetheless. Reading gives writers a sense of rhythm, a look at proper grammar, a feel for storytelling. Reading might not make you a great writer, but you won’t be a great writer unless you read. …

White House, blue language

In Language on August 3, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Hey, remember when the White House employed a communications director named Anthony Scaramucci? I know. It was a long time ago. Way back last week. It seems things change pretty quickly these days, doesn’t it?

Well, if the name rings a bell, you probably remember the rant that apparently got him fired. While talking to a reporter for New Yorker magazine, he used what he later described as “colorful language” to describe his feelings about some fellow White House denizens. Colorful as in suggesting that one coworker was really, really mentally ill and another gentleman was doing something elaborate in service to his own interests… only way more colorful than that.

That left those in the mainstream media to decide whether to do what I just did and tread politely along the euphemism boulevard or to simply print what the man said, even though it was vulgar.

This time, some of the big print outlets printed words their editors likely never thought they would print. The New York Times was among them. Later, it offered a very short explanation of why top editors chose to use the profane words. In short: The newspaper thought it newsworthy.

USA Today, chose a different tack. Here is how it described Scaramucci’s comments about White House rival Steve Bannon:

Scaramucci used an explicit sexual reference to accuse Bannon of doing more to blow himself up in the media and build his own brand than to serve the country.

Huh. It’s fun to write with a wink, but personally, I agree with the New York Times on this one. …