Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

Can you teach writing?

In Books on 3 Aug 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. … Read the rest of this entry »


Read your website first

In Reading on 19 Mar 2015 at 1:25 pm


Do you read your own newspaper and website? I ask because I know some of you don’t. (Actually, those folks probably aren’t reading this either…)

It has been a pet peeve of every editor I’ve ever had and, now that I’m an editor, it’s become one of mine. All too often a staffer will saunter up to me and pitch this great news story that is so great it is already on the front page of today’s newspaper. That means said staffer wasn’t paying attention in the weekly news meeting when the story was discussed, didn’t hear any chatter about it in the newsroom in the days to come, didn’t see it online where it was probably published before the print deadline, didn’t see it in the editing queue on print publishing day and didn’t pick up the newspaper at all the day it came out.

See? I’m mad all over again.

While I’m talking about people on the news side, I saw this problem mentioned in relation to advertising reps this week. From the piece:

There’s a number of people on our team who, the day the magazine comes out, they sit down and read it. There’s absolutely a handful who don’t. If you don’t know your product, and you have to make the assumption the buyer doesn’t, then it gets very difficult to make the brand relevant and relatable.

Amen, brother. … Read the rest of this entry »

Should we be reading faster?

In Reading on 30 Jan 2015 at 10:26 am


Twice in the last week, really smart people have mentioned to me that they feel limited by how fast they are able to read, and that they are doing something about it. It made me wonder whether they are on to something we should all be thinking about.

Avi Tuschman is a political anthropologist and holds a doctorate from Stanford. He speaks seven languages and has written a widely regarded book called, “Our Political Nature.” Suffice to say, he thinks about language and words and learning a lot.

Avi mentioned to me that he has “given up” and turned to an application called Spritz. Perhaps you have heard of it. The idea is this: Traditionally, when you read a line of text, your eye skitters along from left to right, settling ever so briefly on each word in order to determine its meaning before moving on. (You may be able to pick up groups of words, but the idea is the same. Start and stop, start and stop.) Spritz says when we do this we are looking for the “optimal recognition point” – some place in the heart of the word that allows us to nearly instantaneously determine its meaning.

The trouble is all that eye movement, according to Spritz.

If you are like me, you probably read about 300 words a minute, give or take. Spritz claims it can improve that markedly by moving the words for you and highlighting the OPR in red. It’s difficult to explain but easy to understand once you try it yourself. And you can test yourself for free here. Read the rest of this entry »

Making time to read

In Online media on 22 Jan 2015 at 11:02 pm

Emi art

This week I wanted to draw your attention to the important work of Emi Kolawole. She is currently editor-in-residence at the Stanford d.school, which is almost impossible to describe. The d.school is redesigning everything. She has worked at the Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly and with Gwen Ifill on Washington Week.

She maintains two blogs well worth your time. Emi, Eponymously often looks at the realities of life in an age of rapidly changing technology. The piece that follows first appeared there. The second is The Whiteboard, the d.school blog. It will make your head spin, in a good way. I asked Emi if I could republish this one because it deals with something we all need to do: Make time to read in 2015. Take it away, Emi. – Clay

My Pocket is overflowing.

If you use the Pocket app to store reading for later, you know of that to which I am referring. The application is useful in that it allows you to save web articles and documents to read later. It comes with the added benefit of presenting the content without advertising and in a clean, easy-to-read format. …

Here’s the rub. I never get to read most of these articles. Rather than a small, cozy space for some great reading, Pocket has become a bulging behemoth mocking me from my desktop dock.

Read me, Seymour!

Read the rest of this entry »

The traits of a journalist

In Reporting on 16 Jan 2014 at 12:50 pm
Some guys (and one gal) from an old newspaper somewhere.

Some guys (and one gal) from an old newspaper somewhere.

In a couple weeks, I will appear as part of a career-day panel at my daughter’s high school. (This ranks somewhere between “horrifying” and “embarrassing” to her, by the way.) I’m going to be joined by a former TV guy and a woman who has her own communications firm.

In order to prepare, the school has asked me to consider what traits are important in my chosen field. That’s an interesting question. Here’s my first-blush answer:

  1. Curiosity. I don’t think you can be a good journalist without being curious about the world around you. If you don’t honestly want to sidle up to the guy who is watching his home burn to the ground or ask the corporate CEO how she plans to return her company to profitability or talk to the shortstop after the big game, you just aren’t going to be very good at this. I generally ask new reporter candidates if they have any story ideas based on what little they know about our community at that point. If the candidate can’t come up with a couple, based on the people he saw in the street, the weather, the geography, the traffic and everything else he has observed, he probably isn’t very curious about our town. … Read the rest of this entry »

The use and abuse of vocabulary

In Writing on 13 Jan 2012 at 9:34 am

“An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money.”

That is the first sentence of one of the most famous books of all time, “Tom Jones,” by Henry Fielding. You are forgiven if you stopped reading at “eleemosynary.” It means something relating to charity or alms at church. I know only because I had to look it up.

Here’s the thing about words you have to look up. They are jewels you can pocket and use again. Just keep in mind that nothing is more gaudy, more gauche, than wearing a big ol’ rock on your finger when everyone else is dressed for a barn dance. You have to know what you are doing when you pull eleemosynary out of the drawer. If you ask me, Fielding should have saved eleemosynary for another day. I don’t think you do yourself any favors if you send readers to the dictionary in the first sentence of a book that is 968 pages long.

I got to thinking about words and how great writers use them when I took this online vocabulary test. Because I like to brag, I’ll tell you I got ‘em all right. I suspect many of you will as well. It’s not that hard. Read the rest of this entry »

Read the greats and be great

In Writing techniques on 20 Oct 2011 at 3:29 pm

I found something interesting on the Web today. It’s called the Nieman Storyboard.

It is an attempt to discuss story across many media and is a part of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. I know, I know: La-de-da. If nothing else, it is an excuse to look again at one of my all-time favorite writers: Gene Weingarten.

Weingarten writes for the Washington Post and anyone who likes entertaining writing. One of his all-time best pieces was headlined, “The Peekaboo Paradox” and it was about a disheveled childhood party entertainer who went by the name The Great Zucchini. Here’s just a snippet of the 2006 piece:

… At the moment, the Great Zucchini was trying and failing to blow up a balloon, letting it whap him in the face, hard. Then he poured water on his head. Then he produced what appeared to be a soiled diaper, wiped his cheek with it, and wore it like a hat as the kids ewwww-ed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Great Zucchini was behaving like a complete idiot.

Trey’s aunt saw me taking notes. “You’re writing a story about him?” Vicki Cox asked, amused. I confirmed that I was.

“But … why?” she asked.

Why, indeed? That is the fundamental question every newspaper reporter should ask himself before embarking on a story that will jump five times from the Web page. As always, the answer lies in seeking to understand the human condition. Back to the story of a man who makes $100,000 a year with a two-day workweek and is described as “a complete idiot:” … Read the rest of this entry »

Lillian Carter, Harper Lee and sports journalism

In journalism on 22 Apr 2010 at 3:22 pm

I’ve been reading Dave Kindred again, and that means I’ve been thinking again (sorry).

This week, Kindred is talking about the explosion – that’s right, explosion – of opportunities for young journalists. College journalism programs have never been better and there are colonies of talented young students looking for work as journalists. I know. Flies in the face of everything you’ve heard about the industry.

Kindred notes that, when he (and I) were 21, the choices for someone wishing to be a sports reporter were largely limited to newspapers and magazines. Today, those graduating college might find sportswriting jobs by working for newspapers, magazines and online platforms like Yahoo, and even performing multi-media magic for the teams themselves. There is no end to the possibilities.

Kindred says that his friends in the sports world and academia agree that learning to tell stories is more important than learning to use the gadgets of the 21st century. That means today’s journalism students must develop a thirst for the story. Here’s Kindred… Read the rest of this entry »