Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pulitzer Misfires: Inducts Tash

Grammar-punctuation of Tampa- Bay-area publications

Mr. Graham, Pulitzer Prize Committee Chair:

Had I known in 2006 that Paul Tash got the nod to join the Pulitzer Committee, I would have protested the appointment on two grounds: sexism and grammar.

Sexism: The committee’s female membership is 5 out of 17: 30 percent. Women are more than fifty percent of the population. They should have nine members on the committee and the guys eight. Fair is fair.

Mr. Tash’s addition increased the disparity and not only that: his newspaper masthead is a male locker room. I ran a study a few years ago, and most of the front-page bylines were male. And this misogyny comes from a man with two daughters.

Besides, Mr. Tash’s essay below shows he has not mastered the basic tool of his trade: writing. He messes up commas, stumbles into subject-verb-agreement felonies, and writes in a rhetorical style that sounds as if he just stepped off the bus from his natal state of Indiana. I don’t know if Le Paul aims to mimic faux Noble Savage or whether he thinks his is a beguiling untutored style.

Mr. Tash graduated summa cum laude from Indiana University. I think that fact does Indiana University no credit. I understand that all you have to do to graduate summa cum laude from the University of Indiana is to pick the hayseed out of your teeth.

Indiana University has a Phi Beta Kappa chapter despite its being the site of that movie about the Cutters and the university soi-disant football aristocratic knights of the Indiana Round Table—God knows how it got a chapter with the PBK snoots that infest the national office.

I don’t see Mr. Tash at any PBK hoedowns in the Tampa Bay area with the forlorn souls that stand as the local intellectuals that leaveneth the whole lump in these know-nothing badlands, the denizens of which inhabit Mr. Tash’s readership lists.

I haven’t heard that Le Tash has put in a good word for USF to get a PBK chapter even though one is sure that it deserves one as much as Indiana University does--probably more. I infer that the PBK leaders went to Indiana in an antic mood and awarded the University of Indiana a chapter as a lark because they were liquored up on a a Lost Weekend. PBK obdurately refuses all the pleas from USF for a chapter, the utter toads.

So the area’s university stands bereft of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter because carpetbagger Tash refuses to throw his weight around and lobby for one.
What good is it to be the Times publisher and now member of the flossier Pulitzer sexist board if you can’t help the home team get a PBK chapter for Pete’s sake?

Don’t let the LA Times’s Scott Timberg’s pretensions (below) of drama expertise rattle you. Never kowtow to an intellectual-manqué who doesn’t know his ass from his elbow in grammar and punctuation when he lectures you on drama aesthetics. Scott is the old miles gloriosus of Greek dramaturgy, who doesn’t know his ass from his elbow in either drama or grammar.

Make a pledge to run any future Pulitzer committee- member appointments by me because I can see from the lopsidedness of the male-female count that you can’t handle this issue. I think this sexist statistic is a dimension of male performance anxiety and will send the dilemma to the CDC for official investigation of Pulitzer sexual malaise and also for a review of the Cialis-Viagra conglomerates which have an interest in outcomes that are bound to reveal that if PBK headquarters committee men imbibe Cialis or Viagra p.o, IV, or subq, they will make decisions on members to induct with infalliable aplomb and right the sexual disparity before the snow flies with a chapter for USF.

Meanwhile, you must send Le Paul Tash to remedial grammar-punctuation training as a condition of his remaining on the committee, and you must not trust Mr. William Safire to instruct him on commas. I did my best to teach Mr. Safire comma lore when he was a columnist at the NYT. He suffers invincible ignorance in the area, however, and y’all should kick him off the committee to make room for another woman.

Mr. Tash's wife is an English teacher whom he could have consulted to correct his literacy problems. But men of Tash's ilk think us wimmenfolk are for childbearing, slopping the hogs, and holding up a mirror to them to reflect them twice their size.

I ask that you give a copy of this missive to all members of the Pulitzer committee to fast and pray over. I expect the five women on the committee to be Aunt Toms as were the legions who joined the male misogynists in calling the suffragists “hyenas in petticoats” during the struggle for suffrage. By some miracle, be there one who protests the lopsided sexist count on the Pulitzer committee, she is my girlfriend. If not, she is Phyllis Schafley’s girlfriend and must use Phyllis’s cement-based hairspray for life.

(Ms.) Lee Drury De Cesare (middle Valkyrie in pink at the Women’s March for Choice in Washington, DC, in which she had the thrill of being called a Jezebel by a curbside born-again bigot even though she is a granny of ten.)

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pulitzer Puttering

LA Times' Scott Timberg has more dope on the backstage drama of Drama at the Pulitzers, 2007:

The 17-member Pulitzer board couldn't reach a required majority vote on the nominees and faced a second consecutive year without awarding a prize in drama, Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler said Monday. "Rabbit Hole” had been "mentioned favorably" in the jury's report, Gissler said, and the board, by a required three-quarters majority, Redundant commas: the adverbial prepositional phrase is restrictive. sidestepped the nominees and gave it the prize.

So, to recap, here's what happened. The "jurors" There is no reason to put quotation marks around this word. selected to nominate plays (Ben Brantley, Paula Vogel, two regional theatre critics, and a Haverford English professor) submitted three titles they deemed the best of the year. Surprisingly, and to their credit, the redundant adverb and cliché phrase are wordy: dump both. all three were relatively Wordy redundant adverb. little known, aesthetically and/or politically Jettison clunky redundant adverbs. challenging pieces nowhere near Broadway. They were:

"Orpheus X" by Rinde Eckert
"Bulrusher" by Eisa Davis
"Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue" by Quiara Alegría Hudes

Now some are already chiming in with ho-hum reactions to having seen these. I didn't see them. But I'm still impressed that the jury (a jury that included the New York Times lead drama critic!) went ahead and The exclamation point is excessive; “went ahead and” sounds like a hillbilly verb. Dump. submitted such refreshing and unorthodox Forego one of these adjectives. titles without even making a gesture not only to Broadway, but the comma splits compound adverbial prepositional phrases. even to sanctioned nonprofit "safe houses" for new plays like Manhattan Theatre Club, South Coast Rep, etc.

So then those three titles had to be voted on Passive verbs vitiate: edit to “So the gang of seventeen” had to vote on…”by the gang of seventeen. There is no known mechanics rule that justifies this use of italics. Who are these Pulitzer Board members, you may ask?

In alphabetical order:
Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University

Danielle Allen, Professor, Departments of Classics and Political Science and the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago

Jim Amoss, Editor, Times-Picayune, New Orleans, La.

Amanda Bennett, Executive Editor/Enterprise, Bloomberg News

Joann Byrd, Former Editor of the Editorial Page, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Kathleen Carroll, Executive Editor and Senior Vice President, Associated Press

Thomas L. Friedman., Columnist, The New York Times

Donald E. Graham, Chairman, (Chair, goddamit!) The Washington Post

Anders Gyllenhaal, Executive Editor, The Miami Herald

Jay T. Harris, Wallis Annenberg Chair, Director, Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy, Annenberg School of Communication, University of Southern California

David M. Kennedy, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Stanford University

Nicholas Lemann, Dean, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University

Ann Marie Lipinski, Senior Vice President and Editor, Chicago Tribune

Gregory L. Moore, Editor, The Denver Post

Richard Oppel, Editor, Austin American-Statesman

Mike Pride, Editor, Concord (N.H.) Monitor

Paul Tash, Editor, CEO, and Chairman, St. Petersburg Times

I'll tell you something I notice about this list. None of them, not one, could remotely be considered an artist or even an arts specialist. Given the Pulitzers are a Journalism/Media entity--famous for giving certain highly prestigious awards to the arts, the fact not one critic is on the ultimately decisive board is pretty shocking. And insulting to the arts.

Can you really imagine any of these people--let's just say even the New York-based ones--seeing any of the plays nominated? Or is the theatre going experience of journalist cognoscenti like Nicholas Lemann and Tom Friedman limited to a token Manhattan Theatre Club subscription?

Ok, I don't know if either of them subscribes to MTC. But it shouldn't surprise us that not even 9 out of this group (that "majority") could get behind any of the three choices of the eminent juror panel. And that a "three-quarters majority" (so, 12?) had no problem completely overruling them in favor of probably the only play they had seen all year that fit the qualifications (i.e. it wasn't British, it wasn't Shakespeare, and it wasn't a revival).

Here's another theory: are the scripts of the plays provided for the jurors, and the board, to read? Since very few people saw the nominated plays, one would hope everyone at least read them. However--while I didn't see them, I know enough about the work of Rinde Eckert and Eisa Davis (basically performance artists) and know from the reviews of "Elliot"--that these are profoundly visual and performative works. In nominating these titles, the jurors were also taking the bold step of saying the most exciting new plays out there are not necessarily primarily literary.

(I can't help wondering if the same problem is what hurt the two-woman AIDS documentary piece In The Continuum--the play rumored to be the juror's favorite last year.)

I can only imagine these three scripts might have been baffling reads for the board. (Imagine reading an avant-garde theatre text for the first time, without the visual aid/supplement of performance.) At least, a lot more grueling a read than... Rabbit Hole?

Yes, Rabbit Hole is easy to like, if what you ask from theatre is just good story, poignant emotion, and a glamorous lead performance. And, yes, it also hails from both
Manhattan Theatre Club and South Coast Rep. (Ok, I dropped those names earlier as a setup.) So no matter the merits of the play, what a safe, safe pick.

Which is probably exactly what the board considers its charge to do.

All Pulitzer info from the official site. (No direct links to specific pages possible. So, happy hunting!)

Paul Tash speaks:

Thanks very much for the chance to be with you today at the Inland Press Association, and for the chance to come home for a short while to the Midwest. I grew up down the road a ways in a place called South Bend, Indiana, and went to journalism school at Indiana University. Indiana produces lots of journalists, many of whom migrate to other places -- like Florida. I tell folks that Hoosiers make good journalists, partly because after Indiana, everything else is interesting. (But only folks from Indiana can say that.)

It was that connection between I.U. and Nelson Poynter that brought me to the
St. Petersburg Times, where I started working as a reporter in 1978. If you'd told me then that I would still be at the St. Pete Times 24 years later, I would have been pretty skeptical, because that wasn't the pattern of the business or the reputation of our newspaper. At that time, the St. Pete Times was sort of "Nelson Poynter's Finishing School for Journalists." But the grown-ups there kept giving me new things to do that always seemed more interesting than what anybody else was offering. Shift in point of view. Lo and behold, the skinny kid who was a cub reporter now finds himself responsible not only for the news report, but also for the business operations of Florida's largest daily newspaper.

So, I've seen first-hand how the news and business operations of the newspaper relate to each other. Fragment: We allow Faulkner and Proust these but not Tash until he learns where to put commas and where not to put them. How they can get in each other's way, but mostly how they rely on each other.

Okay, I'm a newsie who was steeped in the hard-charging journalism values of Gene Patterson and Andy Barnes, but let me be the first to acknowledge what some of my colleagues in the profession occasionally overlook: for a news organization to be strong, its business operations must be strong.

Last week, for example, the
St. Petersburg Times took an unprecedented step for a North American newspaper by buying the naming rights to a major sports and entertainment center. This is persiflage. Everybody knows this move was to twit the Tampa Tribune because the building is in Tampa. That building had been known as: Passive and wordy edit: Use “was.” the Ice Palace, the home to the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL hockey team and a very Strunk & White’s redundant adverb successful concert venue. Now it's the "St. Pete Times Forum." Starting this year, the Times will pay $2.1-million a year, plus provide some free advertising, to have our name on one of the most busy Clunky modifier: “busiest” is idiomatic. and visible places in the Tampa Bay area. Next spring, the St. Pete Times Forum will host the opening rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, dear to the heart of any true Hoosier, and Redundant comma splits a compound verb. is in the running for the Republican National Convention in 2004.

That would be a delicious irony, since Redundant comma cuts off a trailing restrictive adverbial clause. the newspaper for which it is named passive: Use “from which its name comes” has never supported a Republican candidate for president. My favorite quote in the coverage about the name change last week came from a GOP bigwig who noted that most Republicans in
Florida had started out as Democrats but had been Dump: change to active voice. converted. "Maybe," he said, "we can even convert the St. Pete Times."

But best of all, Comma severs a restrictive prepositional phrase. from our standpoint, the
Ice Palace (oops, make that the St. Pete Times Forum), sits smack dab The Hoosier leitmotif that dominates the diction of this lucubration ranks relentless, but “smack dab” goes too far with the Eiron pose and exposes Tash’s hand. Le Tash thinks his forced folksiness fools us that we are his intellectual superiors when he is the brains in the room. in downtown Tampa, at the heart of the metropolitan region. We think this deal both validates and also: Complete the correlative. advances an image of the newspaper we have been building for the last 15 years: the St. Pete Times is the dominant newspaper throughout the Tampa Bay region. As I mentioned earlier, the St. Petersburg Times is already the largest daily newspaper in Florida, and we sell roughly 110,000 copies a day more than any other newspaper in the Tampa Bay region.

But some folks still have trouble seeing the St. Pete Times as the newspaper for
Tampa Bay. Mr. Tash is greedy. The bigots are entitled to their newspaper, The Tribune has served that purpose for many a moon. We think this deal will help us make stronger connections with some key customer groups: national advertisers, especially those 20-something media buyers who move restlessly Redundant modifier through the ad agencies. Young readers, who are not connecting with newspapers the way earlier generations, did. Fragment And readers outside St. Petersburg, especially Redundant adverb readers in Tampa, where our circulation is already showing strong gains -- but where we obviously Redundant adverb want more. Fragment

So, Redundant comma this naming rights deal is designed Passive: use “will bolster.” to bolster our long-term business interests, and Wrong conjunction: “but” makes sense. it will cause some complications for our newsroom. Initially, there was some controversy because the financial terms were not disclosed when the deal was announced. Inept sentence Edit: The parties’ not disclosing the financial terms caused controversy at first. were not open. Even though it was a financial deal between two private companies, some people thought it Two “it’s” in a sentence cause confusion. was hypocritical for a newspaper that presses for public disclosure to keep these numbers private. Edit “Despite the deal’s being between private companies, some people called hypocritical a newspaper’s keeping the numbers private with its history of pressing for public disclosure.”So, No comma three days after the deal was announced, Passive. Edit: “So three days after the agreement, the building owners released the financial terms: This colon gets the support of no known use of the colon. Jettison it. with our support and encouragement.

Longer term, my news colleagues will have to demonstrate show that our coverage of the Lightning, of the
St. Pete Times Forum and the concerts that play there Dump. remains clear-eyed and Wordy unaffected by the fact that because our name is on the building. Some media critics and our competitors immediately Redundant adverbs subtract from credibility. They say, “Aw, c’mon. You’ve got to believe me.criticized our decision, saying it would inevitably blemish our reputation for strong ethics and impartial coverage.

Personally, I've got more faith in our newsroom to base coverage on the readers' interests and not on our business interests. Twice in my decade as editor, our news coverage has cost the advertising department $1-million in lost business -- without a peep of complaint from the ad folks. And even though we have a substantial marketing sponsorship of the
Tampa Bay Devil Rays, our lead baseball writer irritated the team owner so much once that he pulled all our newspaper racks from the stadium.

I've also got more confidence in our readers than the media critics may have. The readers will be keeping an eye on us, and they'll quickly know if we're pulling punches or playing favorites.
Some of our critics have noted that until now, no newspaper has put its name on a stadium or an arena, with the suggestion that journalism ethics have held others back. Our critics are right that the
St. Petersburg Times broke new ground last week, but I think the reasons have more to do with business than with journalism.

For one thing, there aren't many competitive newspaper towns left in
America. As I said earlier, one of the key factors in our thinking was the chance to help establish the St. Petersburg Times as the premier newspaper for the entire Tampa bay area. Only one-third of the circulation of the St. Pete Times is in St. Petersburg itself.

But an even bigger factor is that most newspapers would have a hard time taking on a new expense -- especially during tough economic times. Like all of you, we've noticed that business isn't exactly great these days, and if we were trying only to boost our profits in the short term, we wouldn't be committing Progressive verbs sound handwringing. Simple verbs “tried” and “commit” are crisper and more convincing. to this new level of expense -- about $1.5-million a year above and beyond what we were already spending. spent

On the other hand, we also wouldn't have expanded steadily into new territories outside
St. Petersburg over the last three decades, because Comma cuts off a restrictive adverbial clause. getting each of those new editions established cost money that would have dropped to the bottom line. And consequently, we'd have been a nicely profitable little Too coy by far newspaper, hemmed Redundant comma cuts off a restrictive past participial phrase. in on three sides by water and by competitors on the fourth, Stop this metastasis here. Start a new sentence here. our own fortunes tied to those of a mid-sized city with limited room for growth and a steadily younger population base. Instead, our circulation area stretches for nearly 100 miles along the west coast of Florida, and we are increasingly making good on our business goal: to be the newspaper for all of Tampa Bay.

It has taken a long time and a lot of money and effort to establish ourselves as the hometown newspaper in lots of places beyond our original hometown. It has taken a big circulation force, Redundant comma cutting off a restrictive adjectival infinitive phrase. both to sell and deliver the newspaper. It's taken a big advertising staff, with reps selling into part- and full-run sections. It's taken one of the most complex patterns of production and distribution in the business, as Redundant comma severing a restrictive trailing adverbial clause we try to adapt the various editions to the tastes and interests of readers in specific areas.

And most of all, it Pronoun reference: a new paragraph does not start with a pronoun with no antecedent so that the reader has to plod back through the previous paragraph to discover it or, worse, to provide the reference him- or herself. has taken a huge commitment to journalism. We have devoted dozens of reporters, editors and photographers -- plus the copy editors and designers to pull their work together -- to local coverage. Those local sections may reach as few as 20,000 subscribers, but a story or photo costs the same to create as if we sent it to the full audience. Andy Barnes, my boss and patron, observed wistfully I shall allow this adverb because of its piquant improbability. One cannot imagine Andrew Barnes’s being wistful. The first time I saw him was when he first came to the area and turned up to a community luncheon carrying some tome by Spinoza or Foucault or some other deep thinker under his arm to remind us rubes what a whiz had moved into our midst. He would flag down people in the street to tell them that he came from The Washington Post. once that we probably spend a greater proportion of our budget on local news than any other newspaper our size. Yes, I agreed, and if we didn't spend so much on local news, we wouldn't be a newspaper our size.

At the outset of my remarks, I acknowledged a point that some journalists need to remember: that the news report can be strong only if the business that supports it is vigorous.

But there's an important corollary that often gets overlooked, especially No comma: it cuts off a restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase. in newspaper publishing circles: that a newspaper ultimately can be strong as a business only if its news report and editorial comment is Subject-verb agreement error: report and comment are. worth reading. Sure, profits can be higher this year if we drop a reporter or two, or Redundant comma: the coordinating conjunction between the items in a series replaces any commas. if we can trim some newshole out of the newspaper, or if we can cut back on travel and drop some syndicates. Don't get me wrong: if done carefully, all those things can be accomplished Passive verb Edit: we can accomplish… without any real damage to the news report or reader satisfaction. We've taken our share of austerity measures at the
St. Petersburg Times to help get us through one of the coldest and longest winters in newspaper advertising that anybody can remember.

But let's not kid ourselves: readers can tell when we're stretching the soup, and if they stop ordering from our menu, we're not left with much of a business.

Al Neuharth, the former chairman of Gannett, spoke to the
Florida state newspaper convention last summer -- and scolded this generation of editors and publishers for letting circulation fall during the last decade. Even during a period of great growth in the state population, the combined daily circulation of Florida newspapers had dropped from 3.1-million daily copies to 2.9-million, Neuharth said, and he called those figures "disgraceful."

Part of the problem, Neuharth said, is that too many publishers are focused too much on the bottom line rather than growing their circulation and their business. I thought some of those in the audience would choke on their chicken dinner, given Neuharth's own role in driving up the profits that most owners and investors have come to expect from newspapers. Al Neuharth complaining Possessive before the gerund that we're too focused on profits? What's next? Hugh Hefner suggesting Possessive before the gerund we're too obsessed with sex?

But I was reminded of another speech I heard this year. At the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Jack Fuller of Tribune Company said Commas to set of a nonrestrictive prepositional phrase that the profit magin
Make friends with the spell checker to catch goofer errors such as this. of the Chicago Tribune had gone from roughly 8 percent in 1980 to 30 percent by 2000, 20 years later.

Okay, okay. This isn't supposed to be a speech about the right profit level for newspapers. My assignment is to determine whether newspapers can meet their business and journalistic obligations at the same time. For the record: I don't see how you can publish a great newspaper without having a strong business, and unless you publish an interesting, entertaining, compelling and provocative news report, you won't have much of a business for very long. So from my standpoint, the question about news vs. business values isn't a very productive question because it often leads to some false choices and dead ends.

Here's the problem, from my perspective. Wordy fragment: Dump it. The editors say they need more reporters and newshole. The publishers dismiss them as fuzzy-thinking romantics who don't have a clue about the demands of the business. The editors dismiss the publishers as mouth-breathing, money-grubbing neanderthals. Capitalize. End of discussion.

Think about how the conversation might change if we framed the issue as long-term business values versus short-term business values. In that context, good journalism is a long-term business value. So is Subject-verb agreement: Are circulation development and growth. So is advertising market share. Profit margins, on the other hand, are more a short-term business value. I'm not knocking profits; I'm very much in favor of them. But they are by no means the only measure -- or even the most important measure -- of the health of our businesses.

As a journalist, and I still think of myself as a journalist, With your frail grasp of grammar and punctuation, you do less harm where you are. Keep away from the news room. I'd welcome some fresh terms and new ways of thinking about this debate within our business. It shouldn't just be editors and reporters who are making a ruckus or stirring the pot about cutbacks and the potential damage they cause. I get tired of hearing the familiar laments, and some of them are self-interested, arising at the journalism conventions -- and only at the journalism conventions.

Some good folks at the Poynter Institute and other organizations are trying now to develop the business case for good journalism. At the
University of North Carolina, Professor Phil Meyer is exploring the statistical connection between a newspaper's circulation and the size of its news staff. But these issues are much too important to the business of journalism to be left only to the journalists.

Imagine how much more healthy and interesting the conversation could be if we had business-side executives -- circulation and advertising directors -- asking pointed questions about a declining audience, what it means to the business, and No comma between a compound noun restrictive appositive what we can do to shore up our claim on the time and attention of readers.

As an editor, I'd welcome the company. We might even have Al Neuharth standing with us. And if nothing else, that would make many of the editors I know stop cold in their tracks and take a fresh look at their positions.

Thanks very much for your kind invitation and attention today. I'd be pleased to hear your reactions and observations.

Paul Tash is editor and president of the
St. Petersburg Times. He delivered these remarks to the Inland Press Association on Sept. 12, 2002.

Submitted by Lee Drury De Cesare, Grammargrinch Harridan


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