Words Have Meaning

Kitty Kelley writes an unauthorized bio of Oprah. ABC passes on a Kelley interview. NPR speculates it's because Disney (ABC's parent company) is partnering with Oprah on her new TV network.

"If they're deciding the merits of a book's newsworthiness on the basis of whether or not it might offend one of their corporate partners, it's an abdication of the primacy of letting the news value dictate the news," offered National Public Radio's media correspondent. (Wouldn't that be a fun job?)

Two things.

Abdication of the primacy? Those words are pretentious even for NPR.

Second, and I'll digress just slightly -- if he really believes that, I fear he's living in some alternate universe. That kind of decision-making's been the source of teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing among "uppercase J" journalists since Gutenburg.

You're a real boy now, Pinocchio.

That's one of the reasons I'm so loyal to NPR. God love 'em, they're so pure.

By the way, "whether or not" should be edited to "whether." Every time. OK, so I guess that was three things. Sorry.

On the other hand, if you're ever going to use the words, "abdication of the primacy" publicly, then I guess NPR's just about the only place you can pull it off.

An old reporter friend from my press secretary days (now there's some outdated nomenclature) won a Pulitzer Prize recently for editorial writing in the Dallas Morning News.

A KU J-school grad, when I knew her, she was covering the '98 campaign for Governor in Kansas. Diligent and talented, I remember her paging me on a Saturday night (that was the electronic etiquette at the time,) pulling me out of a movie to make sure she got a story right.

What'd I miss? Not much. Just D-Day. Tom Hanks saves Matt Damon and takes one for the team.

Look at the words the Pulitzer committee used to trumpet (pimp, spin) the achievement.

They earned the award for their "relentless editorials deploring the stark social and economic disparity between the city's better-off northern half and distressed southern half."

In the rarified air of newsrooms, reporters ache to deplore but are constrained by what they learned in Journalism 101. Editorialists have carte blanche to deplore and deplore they did. Look for yourself. These editorials are, in the words of a former colleague, "well writ."

The DMN brass called their work a "towering example" of sustained reporting. Not a "classic case," not even a "textbook case," nor a "shining example," but a towering example. More power to 'em. It's their work and they earned the right to trumpet (pimp, spin) it however they want.

I'm not in the room when they're judging Pulitzer Prizes, but I suspect (at least I hope) that when they run across entries that use words like "abdication of the primacy," they are immediately deep-sixed.

There's a fine line between smartening it up and showing off. Do the former and you can win a Pulitzer. Do the latter, and some know-it-all blogger in the middle of the country exposes your pretensions.