Saturday, November 03, 2007

Commissions of omission

Journalists only write 10 percent of what they know, said my college reporting instructor. Now it must be only 5 percent.

A reporter called me and we must have talked 20 minutes. In his story, I was represented by a one-sentence quote. What surprised me was the sentence he quoted, which displayed neither a central point nor any particular wit.

No wonder politicians place such a premium at staying "on message." Certainly I was getting through to the reporter, but I couldn't predict just what would get through to print.

Alan K.O. Tan spent considerable time in his Journalism 204 lecture at Wisconsin suggesting what reporters can get wrong in an interview, but less on how much to leave out. Since then I am constantly humbled by learning how much of what I say is lost because I'm still warming to a topic when the listener has already moved on.

Tan also introduced his students to the regional synonyms for political patron when he told us reporters should not use the word "Chinaman." But that's another story.

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