Hot Air: The Core Lesson

I’ve been wallowing in the new memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour M. Hersh entitled, as appropriately as any such thing can be, Reporter.

I type wallowing because that’s what I do with books I love. I’ve never been a fast reader. I chose long ago to mosey through my reading. I like to get the full flavor of a book, to immerse myself in the world the author has created for me. Zipping through a book always seemed to me to be one of those useless things people feel compelled to do, as if it’d make then smarter faster, or in some way eventually more successful.

Remember those late night infomercials for speedreading courses? I also used to see ads for the courses on CTA buses. They all suggested promotions and riches came more easily to those who could knock off the daily paper in ten minutes and devour a book in one sitting. I always figured if that was the price one had to pay for success then success wasn’t worth it.

Truth be told, I feel I’m really devouring a book when I linger over its sentences and paragraphs and even individual words and phrases. Ever see gourmets savoring mouthsful of some fabulous dish? It’s as though they’re holding on to the food long beyond the time necessary to chew it, as if they’re loath to swallow it, thus ending the sensual experience. That’s as much devouring as the table hog who jams fork after spoon of grub into his trap as if some sadistic waiter is about to snatch the plate away.

Other people have told me they do this: when they’re coming near the end of a particularly engrossing novel, they slow down so as not to let the experience end too soon. One can, after all, grieve the end of a book.

Anyway, Hersh is one of the last of a species that’s rapidly going extinct: He never went to journalism school. In fact, he had absolutely zero experience writing or reporting when he was first hired by the City News Bureau in his hometown Chicago back in the early 1960s. In those days — and the decades before — it wasn’t unheard of for newspaper editors to hire people as reporters simply because they had the guts to ask for the job. It takes guts to be a reporter. Now, sadly, J-schools…, er, pardon me, I meant media schools, hammer the guts out of their students. The corporate world, after all, disdains guts. And next to nothing nowadays is as corporate as a news organization.


So, for the next few days, I’ll be throwing quotes from Hersh’s book onto this screen. Here’s the first:

[T]he core lesson of being a journalist — read before you write….

That’s beauty. Simple and profound. Prepare. Study. Know your topic. Simply interviewing people only gives you the slants as seen through their eyes. See what others have dug up and, hopefully, build on that.

I wonder if they teach that in J-…, I mean, media schools today. Or do they just teach you how to stay out of trouble and keep moving forward along your career path?

I’m not just being a smart-ass here. I have the same real question for those who teach in the creative writing department. My mantra has always been, if you want to learn how to write, read.

Jazz Talk

Here’s the link to the podcast of this week’s Big Talk, featuring Bloomington’s prince of jazz, David Brent Johnson. And, in case you missed it, here’s the link to my written profile of him in yesterday’s Limestone Post.

Add a nice bottle of bourbon (I prefer Woodford Reserve) and a Giordano’s thin crust pizza with sausage and green peppers and you’ve got everything you need for a real bang-up weekend.

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