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Why journalists take ibuprofen

Published July 30. 2011 09:01AM

Here are several laws of newspaper writing not taught in Journalism 101.

* No detail is too insignificant that it cannot be challenged. The sky isn't blue. It's azure.

* The person you need to get a statement from is someone who freely uses curse words which the newspaper will not print. Your job is to quote the man accurately. Catch-22.

* In writing a story, be careful how you state the truth. To be safe, phrase everything in a way that sounds politically correct, and you'll be just fine. The most dangerous thing to put into a story is the absolute truth. People are typically offended by it.

* The guy you need to contact in order to verify the facts is on a cruise to the Bahamas and won't return until after your deadline. This is why all journalism can be classified as creative writing.

* There is no statement of fact so plain and simple that somebody won't be horribly insulted by the way you wrote it.

* Your very original idea will be copied by every newspaper in the area, and local TV stations, too. The final insult is that most people will think you copied it from them.

* The one insignificant detail you overlook while covering a five-hour meeting is the one detail the public will want to know. By not mentioning that one detail in your story, you'll be accused of a cover-up.

* When you think your story is letter-perfect, a mistake will show up in the printed version after you've proofread it five times. (This law also is known as the Mr. Magoo axiom.)

* You write a story about a youngster across town who visited 24 countries, then you find out your neighbor's kid visited 25. (All stories are susceptible to One-Upmanship.)

* The meeting you had on your schedule for 8 p.m. actually started at 7. (This law also is known as the What Did I Miss axiom.)

* While driving to the meeting at dusk, Bigfoot suddenly crosses the highway in front of your car. It is at that moment you realize you left your camera at home. (This is called the Share a Kodak Moment migraine.) "Bigfoot, please wait here ... I'll be right back. "

* Just when you go to file your detailed story about the severe storm damage, lightning will knock out the computers. "Sorry I didn't get my work done, but it was an act of God."

* Small-town newspapers now have world-wide readership because of the Internet. You will discover this the first time you write a story containing a factual error. It'll also test the maximum capacity of your email Inbasket.

* Out of twenty photos you took while covering the Miss Cornstalk Beauty Pageant, the one picture that turned out blurry was the picture of the winner. (My camera failed but she looked simply mahvelous dahling.) The photo that turned out best was the one of Miss Congeniality, but she is an Amish woman who won't allow her picture to be published.

* You carefully mark down six names identifying the people in a photo all strangers. When you go to file the story, you notice that the photo actually shows seven people. (This is called the Where The Heck Did He Come From axiom.)

Some of these situations help to illustrate why no story is perfect, no matter how hard a writer tries.

It also demonstrates why journalism can be a humbling experience. Journalism is something between a science and an art, providing headaches that ibuprofen can't touch.

In fact, we "practice" journalism in the same way a doctor practices medicine. We say that we practice it because nobody has gotten it right yet.

But those of us who do it wouldn't trade it for any other job in the world.

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