Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Big Head Filled with Big Ideas

Time for an "items" column, not a collection of snarky gossip about local celebrities but a series of brief hits on stuff that interests me. But why an items column?

1) It implies I am a lava lamp of ideas -- though come to think of it a lava lamp just keeps recycling the same six blobs over and over .... Okay, I am a sugar-fueled three-year-old child of ideas: Run run run after me because I will never stop. Anyway, you get the idea, which is that a series of short hits suggests I have so many ideas that it's a matter of selling 'em green and small or not selling them at all.

2) It's an aesthetic thing, too. As I've noted before, some columnists are clearly trying to stretch an idea to fill the editorial hole. I talked about rhythm in column writing. That idea implies balance, that is, a selection of themes and techniques that fit together over time. There's internal balance, too: Is the idea adequately developed? Is the idea overdeveloped?!? The Chronicle's Joan Ryan did a column recently in which she imagined a female governor calling legislators "boy-women." Clever idea, but I quit reading at the jump. The column was solid. It was competent. It was write-by-the-numbers, playing out just as you would imagine. Better to have asked the question rhetorically: What if Dianne Feinstein had blah blah, omiting the final blah blah blah -- and then Ryan could have added something fresh and surprising, something unpredictable. So internal balance, which we might also call proportion, is a good thing, for was it not Shakespeare who said (or had someone say), "A little more than a little is by much too much"?

You know that it was!

Balance. Time to shut up and provide those items I promised.

* I am a lover of political blogs, from Atrios to Talking Points Memo, but the blogging of the Democratic convention is pretty pedestrian so far, at least on the part of the bloggers who have actually gone to see the elephant and who are not feeding their reports back to a repository, like Salon's War Room. Reporting is reporting and editing is editing, and the political bloggers I like best are editor/commentators. They survey the muddy waters of the mainstream media and tell us where to look. They find patterns and connections -- but they are not reporters, by training or inclination. Now some of them have hung their D+ credentials around their necks and are playing reporter in Boston.

Having covered the Democratic convention in San Francisco in 1984, I tell you that individual reporters at a convention are orphans in the storm. It's the editor back in the big building who takes the pieces of the puzzle the reporters provide -- more likely than not the editor told each reporter what kind of piece he wanted and he may have suggested where to look for it -- and puts together the package. Now here the poor bloggers are, lost in the crowd, robbed of overview. Washington Monthy seems to have gotten it right. Kevin Drum, the erstwhile CalPundit blogger turned insider, is staying home doing what he does best: looking down like god and telling us what it all means.

My job is to "anchor" our coverage, which basically means that my butt will be anchored to my chair watching the convention on TV, just the way the blog gods intended it. As with pro football games, I suspect mine is the best seat in the house.

Or to wander off into another sports metaphor, it's like in basketball. Make the guy dribble with his left hand if he prefers to dribble with his right. This week it looks as if an awful lot of bloggers I follow are dribbling with their left hands.

* I am constantly being surprised by what surprises me. Reading my Sunday New York Times, I glanced at a movie ad, and the first bit of copy my eye fell upon was "By the director of 'She's Gotta Have It' and 'The 25th Hour.'" I thought, "Hey, didn't Spike Lee direct those?" And it turned out the movie was directed by Spike Lee. I was surprised that the ad didn't just assume everyone knew who Spike Lee is! Is this a clue that his reputation -- his notoriety -- is subsiding? Anyway, I was surprised.

* The Rule of Three suggests I should have another item but nothing too heavy, a kind of "dying fall." Okay. A Chronicle copy editor sent me the following, as an example of how life is a comedy to those who spell and a tragedy to those who don't. (Or maybe I mean just the opposite.)

By the way, not long ago, a copy editor in the Food section took umbrage at a restaurant review headline in Datebook that used the phrase "just deserts" (OK, a dumb pun, in retrospect) and instructed the Gate to change it to "just desserts.'' Luckily she sent me a chiding message saying what she'd done, so I called her and instructed her to instruct the Gate to change it back to "deserts.'' First I had to instruct her as to "deserts" versus "desserts.''

And wasn't this column light as a souffle? "He's not so smart," you think. "I would have a beer with him -- but I wouldn't buy the beer."

1 comment:

G Pabst said...

And while you're at it, you might want to think about a columns "environment." Where do you find it every day? What else is there? Which anchors which?

Caen had that Macy's ad just to the right (my right/stage left)>

Before that, I recall that it was the late, great Roos-Atkins.

If I read Herb, was I to assume that I was in a class with customers of these stores? Or at least a potential customer. I know that - in reality - Macy's was such an enormous customer of the Chron/Ex that they got this space partially as mechandising for the other money spent throughout the paper and also re-sold the space to vendors for a premium due to the tremedous readership of the page.

The "bing" that brings this up was the banner above your "blog spot" when I looked at it this afternoon. Two offers were shown, both for "chef pants." One link offered a discounted version in several styles, the other promised a quality vession in several fits, from slim to baggy.

And while I understand that this was the result of a random rotation, I still imagine your typical reader as an exhausted, grease filmed kitchen wretch, just awake at noon, grogilly surveyinh is e-mail until he pulls down his/her Bookmarks menu and selects "... which I see before me?"

And there it is, proof that he's in with the right in-crowd. His black and white checked work clothes are looking tatty, but there's comfort on the page both above and below Robertson's hed!

It's a cliche that newspapers are the only medium bought for it's ads (though Vogue might have an argument here). It's a humanitarian calling. Or at least a public service.

But what about that banner, with new messages riding on every tide?

Is cyber sapce truly space or is that the only way we can currently understand it?

(And is "cyberspace" already and anachronism?)