Tag Archives: Lora Wegman

Throw them under the bus

One of the many interesting aspects of my job is the role of unofficial cliché and jargon czar in my part of the Columbia Daily Tribune newsroom.

“I need a cliché ruling,” city reporter Andrew Denney announced this morning. The cliché that popped up in a story he was writing: “Behind the curve.”

My immediate ruling: No.

(Let’s chase a rabbit here for a moment — oops!, there’s a cliché — and talk about the fifth word of this post: interesting. The word has become cliché simply from overuse and laziness. As in: “Election Day will be interesting.” “I don’t know who the Cardinals will try to sign this winter, but it’s going to be interesting.” “It’ll be interesting to see how much snow we get this winter.” I think “interesting” has become tired, a word we throw in to complete a sentence to avoid actually completing the sentence. I’m not suggesting we ban the word, but what do you think? Is the word overused and abused? I’ll be interested to hear what you think. I also don’t like the word “robust” for the same reason. Not everything is really all that interesting, and not everything is robust, as in, “the results of a robust study,” “we had a robust breakfast of toast,” or “we need a more robust definition of robust.”)

I mean, some words just ooze with pretentiousness. For instance, “robust.” I just don’t like it.

And did you catch my lead-in to that last sentence? “I mean.” It is NOT a robust phrase, but it is horribly, grossly overused, and is more of a nervous mannerism these days, you know? Once upon a time, “you know” was the phrase of mockery. Athletes are the worst offenders.

Reporter: “That was an incredible performance. You seemed to put your team on your back.”

Athlete: “Well, you know, it’s like this, you know. Coach says we just, you know, we take it one game at a time, you know. And that’s what I do, you know.”

Reporter: “What is it that you do?”

Athlete: “You know, I give 110 percent, you know. It’s like coach said, ‘We’re not gonna hit a five-run homer, ya know.’ It’s like that. You know.

Reporter: “But this is basketball.”

The new annoying speech mannerism is “I mean.” I so wish someone would teach athletes to stop saying it. Listening to their interviews is brutal. Maybe athletic directors can say, “Here’s your full-ride scholarship to attend our prestigious university. Now play hard and, oh by the way, never ever say ‘I mean’ again.”

Reporter: “How are y0u approaching the homecoming game against Kentucky?”

Athlete: “I mean, we know they have a great team, they have a great coach, and, I mean, they’ll be prepared. I mean, they’ll bring their ‘A’ game and we better bring ours. I mean, they won the national championship last year, so, I mean, we’ll have to give it one-thousand percent.”

Reporter: “Um, this is football.”

Athlete: “I mean — yeah.”

Clichés, repetitive phrases and jargon fill the air, and when it comes to jargon, I have quite a collection. Unfortunately, it often creeps into my reporting, especially when the topic is health care or business. “It was a win-win situation.” Another reporter heard someone at a board meeting refer to “strategic strategizing.” Today I heard a brand-new one: “It’s not either/or. It’s and/and.”

Huh?

I shared that with city editor Lora Wegman, the one who removes the jargon from my stories with surgical precision, and she immediately tweeted that “and/and” must be eradicated immediately. Now, if I can just use “and/and,” “stakeholders,” “collaborative strategies,” and “low-hanging fruit” in the same sentence, I bet I could make her head explode.

Now, moving forward. Two more and then I’m done.

“At the end of the day.” My ruling: Stop it. Just stop it.

“Moving forward.” As in, “Moving forward, we will recognize lazy speech and lazy writing,” or “How will the Cardinals react to blowing a 3-1 game lead, moving forward?” OF COURSE! we’re moving forward!

I’m done now, because no matter how much I talk about this, I just can’t wrap my head/brain/mind around it.

I mean, really. You know.

What are your favorite/most despised clichés or examples of jargon? Please comment.

 

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The Write Life: Opt for ‘remarkable’

Saturday in Jackson’s Journal is The Write Life, a trek past the mundane and beyond the borders of creativity. This is where we celebrate the craft of writing, storytelling and connecting with the hearts, minds and souls of readers.

I love my job as a reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. I now have 30-plus years of newspaper clips as evidence of my role as a modern-day scribe, chronicling the events and people who I’ve been fortunate to encounter.

Like most writers and reporters, my work leads me to rather paradoxical conclusions. On the one hand, I do believe that what I do is important. I’m telling and reporting history. Live. As it happens. On the other hand, I often believe that what I actually produce is gibberish and not very important because it’s so poorly done.

This week I wrote an article about a rural water district’s bookkeeping problems. Maybe the water district has only 2,500 customers, but to those payers and for the community where the district is located, that’s a big deal.

Without the aid and patience of a gifted editor, however, no one was going to read beyond the lede sentence. I mean, for crying out loud, I learned to write a lede — how to “hook” the reader — in high school. What I presented to my editor began like this: “Officials with Public Water Supply District 4 at Hallsville …”

And I lost her. SHE didn’t read beyond that bland, lazy launch into an important story. Worst of all, I filed the story knowing that the lede stunk. Did that mean I lost sight of the importance of what I do for a living? Probably. Sometimes the reporting and writing seems effortless. Sometimes it’s clumsy and confusing.

My editor, Lora Wegman, insisted on a new lede. This is what I came up with:

“Failure to pay payroll taxes on some expenses and paying a higher-than-allowed mileage reimbursement rate are just two of the bookkeeping issues a former office manager brought to the attention of Public Water Supply District 4 board members Tuesday.”

Better, wouldn’t you say? I got right to it. Still a bit wordy, but so much more interesting and readable than, “Officials said …”

My sophomore (and last) year in college I was editor-in-chief of The Muleskinner, the campus newspaper at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. The managing editor and I decided to reject any article that began with the words “the,” “a” or “an.” Our motto: “Get to the point.” We had journalism professors and all manner of academics argue about our unbending ban, but we won every argument. (Or so we thought. And it was that attitude that led me to leave college after two years because I really did think I knew it all).

Get to the point. If we’re writing something important, get to it. And in today’s newspaper world of a shrinking news hole, maximizing the words we use is top priority — well, second to the journalistic trinity of accuracy, fairness and balance.

The water district story was important to those customers, but I’m also convinced it was a big deal to all readers because watch-dogging and exposing what might be less-than-transparent operations ought to serve notice on all public entities entrusted with the people’s money.

Maybe that’s a lofty goal, but I buy into that aim. My first weekly newspaper boss used to say that photos of car crashes — and sometimes just the crashed car, because maybe we missed the actual accident — made everyone drive more safely.

I remember asking, “Then why do we keep seeing wrecks?”

My publisher, Norman Gallagher, scowled at my seemingly logical question and zinged me with a challenge. “Why don’t we do a better job getting their attention? Let’s tell the story better.”

Mr. Gallagher’s zeal for the truth was sometimes sidetracked by prejudice and personal vendettas, but he was passionate about telling the story.

“Let’s tell the story better.”

That brings me, in a rabbit-trail-chasing sort of way, to the point made by author/writer Jeff Goins, whom I consider a writer’s writer.

“What is up to you is the choice to be remarkable. As is the decision to be mediocre.”

That’s the conclusion Jeff reaches in Friday’s post, “The first day of the rest of your life.” Check out his blog.

Then choose to be remarkable.

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The Write Life: My Tribbees are winners

Countdown to Kianna

10, 9, 8 … Just one week and one day from the due date when Darnell and Kishia Brown will be parents, and Jodie and Kelly Jackson will be grandparents. Kianna Allene Brown will also be blessed by her Auntie Natasha.

And that’s just the immediate family. So many others are already invested in the Brown family. And a few hundred have followed this countdown to some degree for 30 days now

It won’t be long …

The Write Life

We all want to be relevant. Even the most introverted among us (and that certainly is not me) wants to matter, if not make a difference. I think that’s the Number 1 reason we write, whether it’s newspaper journalism, non-fiction biographical histories, or novels of fantasy or mystery.

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Filed under A reporter's life, CoMo Health Beat, Family, Kianna Allene Brown, Living Write

Guest blog: The tale of Kianna’s cake

By LORA WEGMAN

Cake-baker extraordinaire & City Editor, Columbia Daily Tribune

I’ve been aware for a while that my colleague Jodie was preparing to rename himself Grandpa. What with the “I love Grandpa” ties and the daily blog reminders, it would have been hard not to notice. He was so excited, I felt flattered when he asked for my help in a small way – making a cake for mom-to-be Kishia’s baby shower.

“The theme is onesies,” he said, and he brought me a blank invitation, a cute little onesie-shaped card. The rules were simple: Make a white cake that fits the shower theme and feeds 30.

I decorate cakes as a regular hobby, so I had most of what I needed – a pan large enough to cut the onesie shape from, fondant for decorations and my airbrush machine for coloring them. I drew a template by tracing the invitation and enlarging it. Then I baked my cake, cut the shape and covered it with white buttercream. (There was quite a bit of cake left – co-workers can expect to see cake balls emerging in the newsroom soon with the leftovers).

I cut fondant for the “elastic” around the arms and legs and used a tool to score those pieces like stitching. Then I sprayed them pink from my airbrush, shading a little lighter or darker for different areas of the onesie. I topped it off with a bib – “K” for Kianna, of course. With scraps, I created a rattle and block to round out the board.

The baby shower cake: Very sweet and ready to eat

For you bakers out there, here’s the recipe I used. Jodie and I have a cupcake-baking co-worker who would frown on this, as it starts with a cake mix. But I find that when I’m making a cake a couple of days in advance like this one, those kinds stay moist longer. I doubled this to fill out my large half-sheet pan; it’s written for cupcakes but can adapt to other pans.

White on White Cupcakes
(From: Cupcakes! By the Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn)
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 box white cake mix
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
3 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt white chocolate chips in microwave; stir until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
Blend cake mix, milk, oil, egg, egg whites, vanilla, and melted white chocolate with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop scrape down sides of the bowl. Increase speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more.
Bake until lightly golden; time will vary by size of pan, but start with 20 to 25 minutes. For cupcakes, bake 17 to 20 minutes.

I made my delivery to Grandpa the night before the shower, and I trust he got it home safely. This was one of the most fun cakes I’ve created — sure, it was a cute theme, but knowing how pumped Jodie and his family are about the baby made it exciting.

I don’t believe I’ve ever met Kishia. But if she’s anything like her dad (and I don’t doubt that), I’d be lucky to know her. For now, I was just honored to create a small piece of the celebration.

Sorry you didn’t get a taste, Kianna, but if you ever need a birthday cake, just say the word.

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