Happy new year.

Greetings to all on 1/1/09. My resolution is the same one every year — Get your shit together — and I suspect I’ll have the same success I had last year. My shit remains scattered all over the place. Why do I do this to myself? I only wish I knew.

But since January 1 is always associated with fresh starts, clean closets and deep cleansing breaths, I thought I might start with the four or five draft entries to NN.C that linger in my WordPress drafts folder. These are abandoned entries, things I started but never finished, or at least never published. A couple of them are obvious; it was plain, once I set it down in prose, that the old Morrises joke that went around my social circle one summer (remember, Borden?) wasn’t funny at all, and really required alcohol to sell, but I never trashed the draft. It might be the only existing account of the Morrises joke! I’ll use it somewhere. Others I’ve already thrown away, because the world already knows how I feel about Mitch Albom, and underlining it isn’t necessary.

But here’s something I’m going to go ahead and copy/paste here. From the embedded link within, it looks like it dates from 2006. It’s about one of my favorite things about newspapers — the little inside jokes that somehow make it into every issue — and since 2009 will probably be the year at least one major U.S. city loses its daily, now’s the time.

So best of luck to all in this new year. (And please, will someone sit down with Dick Clark and have a heart-to-heart with him, before another year passes?) Below, something from the notebook:

When I returned to work following my fancy-schmancy journalism fellowship, only to discover my new assignment would be the 5 a.m. shift on the copy desk, I wasn’t exactly pleased. But — this part is complicated and not interesting to anyone but me — it would do. And honestly? Once I got back to work, to my enormous relief and equally enormous shock, I found I still cared.

I still wanted to do a good job, that is. I still cared that the stories I handled were as good as I could make them. Reporters who wouldn’t check simple facts still bugged me, as did editors who let sloppy prose pass by unmolested. And to some extent I fell victim to Copy Editor’s Disease, in which I became enormously nit-picky.

For example: I edited the movie grid, and for several weeks running, it included “Around the World in 80 Days.” Each title had a one-line description, and its was “A man travels around the world in 80 days.” This drove me insane. I always changed it to, “An adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel.” That there was probably not a single reader who would appreciate or even know about this change bothered me not in the least. It just seemed important, and if you can’t see why, well, you’re not my colleague, buddy.

So, then, you can maybe see why I was so tickled by this Jack Shafer piece in Slate, about the folks at the New York Times who write the one-line descriptions of movies that run in the TV listings. Only they do more than just describe; they’re a micro-mini review, too:

The capsules spend 20 words—and usually fewer—to pass informed judgment on movies. Even if you never intend to watch any of the films, the capsules make for good morning reading. Consider this taut kiss-off of The Matrix Revolutions: “Ferocious machine assault on a battered Zion. Stop frowning, Neo; it’s finally over.” Appreciate, if you will, the efficient setup and slam of the 2 Fast 2 Furious capsule: “Ex-cop and ex-con help sexy customs agent indict money launderer. Two fine performances, both by cars.” And for compression, it’s hard to better the clip for the Julie Davis feature Amy’s Orgasm. It warns potential viewers away with just four syllables: “Change the station.”

Good newspapers are full of stuff like this, little gems inserted by smart people who are frequently working in below-the-radar jobs that the folks who run the place don’t even think about. The Columbus Dispatch’s College Preview column ran in agate and was supposed to be a pretty dull agate-type spacefiller on what the Saturday football schedule had in store, until they turned it over to someone who didn’t do dull agate well. (Actually, several people.) Instead, they gave them art in very small type. Here’s a sample, previewing a Florida-Tennessee matchup:

Jocks in Socks: A tongue twister by Dr. Seussaphone. Jocks. Socks. Blocks. Knoxville. Jocks in socks knock blocks in Knoxville. Which jocks knock whose blocks in Knoxville? Why the Gators of Steve the Fox, sir. Chicks built like bricks come. Hicks in stick shifts come. Chicks come. Hicks come. Chicks and hicks from the sticks come. Vols take licks like sick hicks from sticks. Please, sir, Vols don’t like taking licks in Knoxville. I’m so sorry, says Steve the Fox, but you Vols I vow to knock. Here’s an easy game to play. Here’s an easy win today. Who beats whose butt? Steve beats Vols’ butts. Steve beats Vols and Fulmer’s full butt. Beats Phil’s full butt? To a pulp, sir.

By the time the suits caught on, it had developed a readership.

Content always wins.

Posted at 10:13 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' |

21 responses to “Happy new year.”

  1. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 1, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Ah, if only content always won. But we can treasure the small victories. Like this site!

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  2. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 1, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    By the way, apologies to all the Detroiters here, but i’m rooting for the Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, starting right NOW on NBC. Enjoy, hockey fans!

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  3. deb said on January 1, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    nance, you’ve said it before, and you’re right: you can’t beat a local newspaper for entertainment value. remember the national lampoon newspaper parody, where even the police blotter/fire calls entries (“loud noises,” “strange smells”) were funny? they didn’t have to stretch too much to get there. remember (you too, jc, mark, wade) reading the one-paragraph news fillers in the athens messenger with headlines like “snake on square” and (my all-time favorite) “meat burned”? a newspaper is a veritable entertainment factory, folks. buy one today.

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  4. Carol said on January 1, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Are you the same Nancy Nall who wrote for the Journal Gazette?
    I haven’t lived in Fort Wayne for over 30 years but I recognize the name. Just wondering.

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  5. nancy said on January 1, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    No, I wasn’t that one. I was the one who wrote for the News-Sentinel.

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  6. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 1, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Congrats, Red Wings. That was a fun game to watch. And Detroit got a win. Goooo, 2009; keep it up.

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  7. James said on January 1, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Ahhh… Dick Clark…

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  8. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 1, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Requiescat in pacem, Dortmunder — http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/02/books/02westlake.html

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  9. basset said on January 1, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    “…on manual typewriters.” In the first sentence. Guess that means he’s above pop-culture.

    Hugely wonderful New Year’s this time around, can’t hardly beat it. Try this: go to your local art gallery, sit in a circle with three or four of your best buds, the ones who appreciate a good Bobby Helms, Stanley Brothers, Buck Owens, or Beatles song, and spend the evening free-associating (“You know ‘If I Fell’? Goes like this…”) within easy reach of a table full of wine, cheese, little sausages, and so forth, surrounded by artsy people milling around and talking.

    Interact with them when you go to pee, otherwise spend the evening picking. Understand and appreciate the special value of singing “Fraulein” within five miles of Fort Campbell’s front gate, and “Paradise” about forty minutes’ drive from the real Muhlenberg County – Cooz and I are probably the only nn.c’ers old enough to pick up on either of those references, if you know what all this means I am duly impressed.

    Next morning, head out to the state park with a bunch of tree-huggers much like yourself, walk eight miles up and down the hills, stop and eat a traditional black-eyed-peas-and-cornbread lunch on the trail. Take some pictures.

    Grill a rack of ribs when you get home. Uncork a bottle from Oliver’s winery in Bloomington. At my age, that’s about it right there.

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  10. joodyb said on January 1, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    refreshing, basset, that we write so young! i grasp both refs. it does indeed sound like it’s all downhill (or is it up?) for you in ’09.

    i snorted when i read ‘meat burned’ – fyi, we just ran our Best of the Blotter. Either St. Paul readers have a great sense of humor or we just get away with our own little bit of larceny once a year:

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  11. Danny said on January 1, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    No, I wasn’t that one. I was the one who wrote for the News-Sentinel.


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  12. MichaelG said on January 1, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    I don’t get the references, Basset, ‘though I did spend a few months at Campbell in ’67 before being reassigned to Ft. Bragg and visited again four or five years ago when my son-in-law was stationed there. It’s not lack of years, it’s lack of place.

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  13. basset said on January 1, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    “Citizen assistance”? C’mon, you made that one up.

    Our near the end of the year event at… never mind where it was, let’s just say a tv newsroom in a small Midwestern market… involved taking bets on how many hunters would get shot during deer season.

    The Campbell reference: “Fraulein” is one of those armies-of-occupation songs about taking up with a local woman in the occupied area. The 101st Airborne is based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, a large Army base about an hour from Nashville, and has been stationed in Germany several times; I have personally heard German spoken in the base exchange, and there are several German restaurants, a bakery, an Oktoberfest, and a German social club in communities near the base.

    “Paradise” is a John Prine song about… well, some graduate student would come up with a lot more than this, but on the surface it’s about growing up in Muhlenburg County, Kentucky (home of the Everly Brothers) and the effects of strip mining there.

    Worthless trivia fact for the day: Campbell is also the base that Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart had in mind when they wrote the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.”

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  14. Carol said on January 2, 2009 at 4:52 am

    Oh, I thought you were the other one.

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  15. coozledad said on January 2, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Basset: I’m familiar with the John Prine song. I have to confess I always thought the Monkees song was about Clarksville VA., and wondered why in the hell anyone needed to bust their ass to get there.
    You reminded me of a (friendly) drunken argument I had with some guy who said the Beatles and country music were polar opposites. I was trying to explain skiffle, the Everlys, Buddy and Waylon and Buck Owens all at the same time and got nowhere. Hell, even the Stones were a part time country act.

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  16. coozledad said on January 2, 2009 at 8:50 am

    In case you haven’t seen this, a larval Jimmy Page doing the skiffle thing.

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  17. basset said on January 2, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Jimmy Page & John Paul Jones played on several Herman’s Hermits records too.

    “polar opposites”? where did he think Ringo got his name?

    correction: make that “Muhlenberg” county. I should know better.

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  18. deb said on January 2, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    jeff TMMO, thanks for the heads up on donald westlake. he’s an old favorite; sad to see him go. for you newshounds out there, his “trust me on this” is an absolutely hilarious sendup of tabloid newspapers set in, of course, florida. he gets it all pitch-perfect, right down to the staffers’ glum knowledge that just by setting foot in this joint, they’ve burned every bridge back to the hallowed halls of Real Journalism. i think the book is out of print, but worth a trip to your local library.

    was anybody else besides me pissed off years ago by the john denver cover of “paradise”? it was upbeat and perky! he totally missed the point.

    btw, nancy, i hope none of my hugely self-incriminating letters to you in fort wayne were diverted to The Other One.

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  19. MichaelG said on January 2, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Basset, I knew about the German women at Campbell when I was stationed there in ’67 with the 101st. I just thought your reference was something more complicated.

    Does that Prine song specify which Clarksville? Clarksville, TN is adjacent to Ft. Campbell. My daughter lived there and went to Austin Peay while her hubby was at Campbell with the 160th SOAR.

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  20. basset said on January 2, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    160th SOAR, that’s some serious business… I’m impressed. (Note to everyone else: these guys fly helicopters full-speed at treetop level in the dark with no lights and only night-vision goggles to see by, IIRC they were the first ones into Iraq in the first Gulf War.)

    The Prine song doesn’t mention Clarksville, but Muhlenberg County’s not far from there – other side of Hoptown, up around Central City. The Everly Bros. are from Brownie, I’m not even sure it’s on the map.

    The “Last Train…” reference was just something I remembered from an interview with either Tommy Boyce or Bobby Hart, who specifically mentioned that it was Clarksville, TN.

    “some graduate student…” refers to my opinion that someone who’d been to college way too much would probably try to read all kinds of social subtexts into a pretty straightforward song. No need to make it more complicated than it is.

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  21. LA Mary said on January 3, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    The old New York Herald Tribune had someone great writing summaries of movies. I think I already mentioned the summary of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever: Yves Montand at the mercy of Barbra Streisand and her clothes. There was always at least one movie described as “From Hunger.”

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