newsroom new york times journal

Really bad writing

Many moons ago, my late friend John Van Doorn strolled ‘round the newsroom flashing a $5 bill, promising it to whoever wrote the worst lede sentence in the next 30 minutes. Need I tell you I won? Let's do some proactive forward-thinking pre-planning and unpack it and build some synergy toward a working consensus and run it up a flagpole and see if anyone salutes. Pretty bad, huh? But not as bad as the lede that won me those five smackers. And I came up with both winners justlikethat. No thinking involved. Just memory, reflex and desire. For 5 bucks, the first time, and this time just for practice. You will get your money's worth today. This is the worst I can do. Here is a true , from the days when I was a freelance writer (broke, despairing, no fixed residence, family to support) and I got a job interview at a place I shall not name. It was a school. One of the first questions the panel asked me was how to teach people to write. I responded, truly, that you can learn more writing, more quickly, by reading something really bad than you can by reading something really good. I did not get the job, because that's not what they wanted to hear. But what I said was true, and still is. I explained to the people who did not hire me that it's way easier to point out the flaws and idiocies of […]

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