When journalists gather, they tell stories. You’d expect that, I suppose, but some of the best ones do not run in newspapers. They become part of the oral lore. Some of them become legends in the business.
Last week, taking part in a seance in Washington at the convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, I had time to sit with Doug Fisher of the University of South Carolina and Fred Vultee, now of Wayne State University.
(The panel on which I sat spoke to the issue of maintaining quality in the new media environment, and everyone there nodded in solemn agreement at the need to have articles for Web sites edited by copy editors, as we do at The Sun, if we are to maintain the standards of accuracy and clarity that we uphold in print editions. I said that everyone agreed. Everyone. DOES ANYBODY OUT THERE HEAR ME? Sorry.)
Doug’s story, which I steal without shame, was of an Associated Press bureau and the barrage of questions it was accustomed to getting in the evening from a newspaper in the area. One night the bureau’s big story was of a peculiar homicide — a man stabbed to death with a pen.
The editor at the newspaper had a long list of questions for the AP bureau chief. What about this detail, and that detail, and the other detail. Finally, at the end of this catechism, came a question in the best get-the-name-of-the-dog tradition of journalism: What color was the pen?
Pausing only for a moment in exasperation, the bureau chief answered, “I don’t know, but it’s red now.”