Wick Communications

Sprinkle periods liberally across your page

In Writing techniques on July 28, 2016 at 2:45 pm
One of my all-time favorites, the inimitable Norman Mailer. From the New Yorker.

One of my all-time favorites, the inimitable Norman Mailer. From the New Yorker.

Don’t try this at home:

She said I’m tired of begging God to overthrow my son, because all this business of living in the presidential palace is like having the lights on all the time, sir, and she had said it with the same naturalness with which on one national holiday she had made her way through the guard of honor with a basket of empty bottles and reached the presidential limousine that was leading the parade of celebration in an uproar of ovations and martial music and storms of flowers and she shoved the basket through the window and shouted to her son that since you’ll be passing right by take advantage and return these bottles to the store on the corner, poor mother.

That is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, from “Autumn of the Patriarch. Let’s stipulate that none of us are Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He was a wordslinger of the highest order. He found poetry tailored in the very look of the sentence on the page, to say nothing of the rhythm as it plays of the tongue of your mind. Look at it again. Consider the theme his whirl of words form from words like “overthrow,” “uproar” and “begging.”

Now forget that you ever saw it. Let’s not try to write the way he does.

Instead, find good fortune in short, declarative sentences that come to a quick end and ask much less from our harried readers. For better or worse, our subscribers are busy people who aren’t likely curled up by the fire, cat on lap, to luxuriate over this thing we’ve made. Alas.

I see you nodding in agreement. So why is the run-on sentence a curse that is hard to shake from our newspapers? …

The meaning of the Fourth Estate

In journalism on July 28, 2016 at 2:37 pm

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Last week, I mentioned “the Fourth Estate” in a post about the need to listen better, to give people insight into the press’ decisions and effectively let the people into our branch of community institutions. It got me thinking about the term, what it implies and what It shouldn’t mean.

These days, in America, it most often refers to the press. There are the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Then there is us: the watchdogs, the fourth estate of government.

But it is not an American term of art. While there isn’t complete agreement, the term was apparently coined by an Irish statesman named Edmund Burke in the late 1700s. He was referring to the press that was allowed into the House of Commons at a time when the British government included three houses — the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and the Commons.

When I was growing up, I interpreted it as a term of respect for a noble profession that helped galvanize public opinion during World War II and held the executive in check during Watergate. The Fourth Estate was a necessary check on abuses throughout government and the need for it was codified in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. …

Communications 101

In Communication on July 28, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Did you watch the national political conventions? Which speeches resonated most with you? Why?

Without getting political, it’s safe to say that First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech before the Democratic National Convention was among the most lauded and memorable. It has been mentioned all over social media for much of the last week. Without getting into the meat of it, can we discuss how she did it? (Or, to be more honest, how her speechwriters did it?) I’d like to take a look simply because there is much to learn for anyone in the communication business.

Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark did a masterful job of unpacking it in this blog post. He makes eight points about her oration style and I highly recommend you read his take.

I am not sure I have much to add but I would point out a couple of Clark’s particulars.

Editorial writers, that stuff about liberating your pronouns, that is for you. “We,” “us” and even “I” can make your opinions so much more powerful.

Short sentences rule. “When they go low, we go high.” That is seven words I can remember. …

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