As a guy who writes unapologetically for both print and online outlets, I have a lot of fun reading smug and woefully out-of-touch posts from alleged “journalists” dictating precisely how to go about conducting this business. Thankfully, much of Anita Burzzese’s work is online, offering invaluable lessons for writers of all stripes on what not to do.
1. Don’t treat the reader like an idiot. In Ms. Bruzzese’s December 14th column, spends five needless paragraphs providing dumb buildup about why Kathy Caprino thought that losing her job was the best thing that happened to her. Instead of offering an uninterrupted paragraph of quotes, Ms. Bruzzese feels the need to interject this question to the reader, “So why does Caprino feel so great about what happened?” Actually, that’s what the journalist is there to tell us. Except that Ms. Bruzzese, who has both a focus and a worldview about as wide as a vise in a high school shop class that can’t be untightened, hasn’t considered that the average newspaper reader may not have Capirino’s expendable income, much less the remains of a “well-paying, high-powered position” to start a new life. Frankly, it’s insulting to the average newspaper reader to offer such a sheltered tale of redemption in a time of economic crisis. The more journalistic angle would involve Ms. Bruzzese asking Caprino why her life-relaunching strategy simply isn’t possible for a working mother who works two full-time jobs at minimum wage. Ms. Bruzzese doesn’t seem to understand that because you are published in a newspaper, this does not necessarily mean that you are a journalist. Journalism involves asking critical questions, not propping up gratuitous and self-serving figures for human interest stories. The reader wants to understand issues. And that means questioning everything and everybody, while likewise presenting many sides of the story.
2. Don’t rely on one source for a trend piece. In the same article noted above, it’s worth observing that Ms. Bruzzese has talked with only one person — Caprino — for a story that is ostensibly about how women can thrive in a tough economy. Now a real journalist would talk to some of the women who Caprino talked with, corroborating Caprino’s claims against those of others. Even if Ms. Bruzzese had juxtaposed even one additional subject against the others, it would be far more substantive than this puff piece. Furthermore, a real journalist would take the Caprino claim that “seven out of 10 working women report that they are facing a major turning point in their careers” and compare it against other sources. But Ms. Bruzzese is such a lazy journalist that she can’t be bothered to sift through the material in front of her. I’ve looked through Caprino’s book courtesy of Amazon’s Inside the Book feature and can find no trace in the text or the footnotes of “seven,” “7,” “ten,” or “10” that matches up to Ms. Bruzzese’s claim that Caprino notes in her book that “seven out of 10 working women report that they are facing a major turning point in their careers, especially middle-age women.” We are informed by Joyce Lain Kennedy that Caprino herself conducted this study with the Esteemed Women Foundation, an organization founded not by a scientist, but by a filmmaker. This is an organization that likewise features on its homepage an over-the-top, scantily clad image of Paris Hilton and an image of astronaut Eileen Collins standing in her flight suit, with the caption, “Which One Will Your Daughter Want to Become??” [sic]
What this tells us is that Ms. Bruzzese not only did not bother to read the book in question, but listened only to what Caprino told her. Never mind that the study is hardly objective, suggesting an inherently sexist and outdated dichotomy in which women are either pop stars or thoughtful astronauts. Since Caprino’s book is more of a motivational tome rather than a legitimate study, would it not have been journalistically responsible for Ms. Bruzzese to disclose the Esteemed Woman Foundation connection? (Oh, dear me. Such basic corroboration would require too much work!)
3. If your quote establishes a concept, there is no need to browbeat the reader with an additional paragraph. In Ms. Bruzzese’s November 30th column, we again see her troubling habit of offering a paragraph that explains what the source is going to say, only to have the source repeat what is essentially the same information.
Facella says the history of “elitism” by some workers — especially young employees — who believed they should be paid top dollar when they had little experience, may have been driven from the workplace scene by the current financial crisis.
“I think a lot of folks are going to be humbled by this experience,” he says. “I think they’re going to see that it’s OK to learn from the bottom and work your way up. They’re going to find that learning the ropes before taking over a business makes sense.”
If I were working the copy desk, I would demand this rewrite:
Some workers once believed that they could be paid top dollar for little experience, but Facella suggests that “a lot of folks are going to be humbled.” The current economic crisis may even cause a few workers to develop a new work ethic. “I think they’re going to see that it’s OK to learn from the bottom and work your way up. They’re going to find that learning the ropes before taking over a business makes sense.”
Not only have I cut thirteen words from Ms. Bruzzese’s two paragraphs, but I have improved the flow, captured the essence of what Facella told Ms. Bruzzese, and framed the quotes with topical thrust in mind.
Considering these severe missteps (only a handful of Ms. Bruzzese’s inefficiencies), I think it’s pretty safe to say that Ms. Bruzzese is ill-equipped to tell anyone how to practice journalism. Particularly when she remains mostly incapable of doing it herself. And that’s truly the appalling thing to consider here.
(Tip via Books, Inq.)
© 2008, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.