March 24, 2008

The Power of Simple Words -- The Obama Speech

While everyone is going ga-ga over Barak Obama's race speech, few have really taken apart the speech as a lesson for aspiring writers and public speakers.

Over and over again we journalism professors preach the values of the simple declarative sentence and the use us simple but elegant words.

But we run up against the academic belief that simple words means simple minds.

I tell my students over and over that the use of multiple syllabic words is more an effort to impress than to communicate.

And a journalist's main job is to communicate.

So while everyone was talking about what Obama said and how impressive the speech was, I looked at the actual words.
  • The speech was 4,930 words long.
  • Of those words only 370 were more than two syllables. (Actually the number I had was 363, but I could have missed a couple. So I rounded up.)
  • That means that 92.5 percent of the words Obama used in his speech were two syllables or less.
  • The average length of each word was 4.6 letters. (Kind of hard to get too many syllables out of that.)
  • The readability grade level for the speech (calculation done by MS WORD) was 10.5.
So to summarize:
  • Commentators of every political stripe call the Obama speech a masterpiece.
  • The speech was directed at a person with a second year high school education.
  • The average word was no longer than 5 letters.
  • Only 7.5 percent of the words in the speech were more than two syllables.
Now, explain to me again how using multi-syllabic words communicates better.

March 7, 2008

Where is foreign policy in the discussion?

While we teach the basics of writing, interviewing and editing, we should also be instilling in our students the importance of identifying what is news.

Too often too many journalists end up taking the easy way out by focusing on what is in front of them for their stories. Publishers and editors repeat the mantra of "Local. Local. Local" over and over again.

And reporters go out and do local stories with no thought about how national and international events may have impacted or impact those local events.

When the editors and reporters do pop their heads up from the local scene to see the rest of the world they see war, disasters and unrest. So they pull back in after letting us know that the rest of the world is also a mess.

Rarely do we see articles or broadcasts about political and social issues in other countries and how those issues might affect us.

A good example is how the presidential campaign is being covered.

If we are to believe the media accounts of the campaign the only foreign policy issues that matter are immigration and the war in Iraq.

Take a look at the screen capture on the right from the CNN political web site.

Immigration, Iran, Iraq and Free Trade are the international issues they are covering for the candidates.

And yet, where are the stories about these issues?

And are these the sum total of the international issues the next president will have to face? Are these the only international issues that affect the American people?


Before we can get more and better coverage of how the rest of the world affects us -- other than cheap Wal-Mart goods, Japanese cars, and terrorism -- we have to have journalists who understand there is a connection between Main Street and the rest of the world.

That is why my required reading includes "The World is Flat" bu Tom Friedman and why I am having my students interview foreign correspondents.

Most of my students already know there is more to the world than the limited view presented by most of the main stream media. I am hoping to give them more ammunition to take on the rest of the ostriches in our profession.

There is no reason we, as journalism instructors, cannot stretch our students' minds and views so they do not fall into the trap of Local, Local, Local and little or no sense of how the local and the international are linked.

Free PDF Writer

Sharing documents across numerous platforms can mean the loss of formatting or other unique features. The solution for many years has been converting the file an Adobe PDF file. The Adobe PDF Reader has long been a free program.

But writing a PDF file has been something else.

The problem for the occasional user has always been the high cost of either the Adobe PDF writer or its competitors. Cost is no longer a problem.

There are a number of free programs that can do the job. I have used CutePDF for a number of years and it really works.

Dennis O'Reilly from CNET has a column discussing the various ways to write PDF files with links to the appropriate sites: Convert any Office file to PDF for free.

And, yes, I know that you can easily write PDF files from any campus computer. But why should you always have to hustle down to the campus to convert documents to PDF when you can do it at home?

Dan Kubiske

March 6, 2008

Why looking past the front door is important

Take a look at the list if foreign owned companies operating in Virginia and Fairfax County and try to tell me we should not be concerned with what is happening beyond our borders.

Foreign Owned Companies in Virginia

Foreign Owned Companies in Fairfax County

March 5, 2008

Media looks at Obama and itself

Interesting look at how the Democratic Party candidates are being covered from the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Why words are important (An international example)

Once again here is an example of why it is important to use the right word at the right time.

AsiaMedia Columns :: From minor spat to cultural war

I agree the reporter was within his rights to use the word he did to convey clarity and precision to the story. The objections to the word he used was political not grammatical.

I have often talked about the meaning of a word and the sense of the word can be different.

My most common example is "regime."

By definition it means a form of government. Such as: The United States has a democratic regime.

Yet the sense of the word to many Americans is much more negative. It has a sense of a dictatorship.

Critics of the Bush Administration decry the "Bush regime." People talked of the "Pinochet regime" when denouncing the Chilean dictator. In both cases the use of the word is incorrect. "Bush" and "Pinochet" are not forms of government. But that doesn't stop its use. So the meaning of the word has changed in the minds of most people. The use of "regime" has come to mean something evil and wicked. It is a loaded word used to evoke an emotional response rather than to convey a precise and concise meaning.

I also use examples of how British English and American English have to watched closely. Knocking some one up in the morning has completely different meanings in the UK and USA.

With large portions of the world taught British English -- think India, Pakistan, Singapore and Hong Kong -- not knowing these differences can make a story go in a whole different direction.

As I told my students, when interviewing some one from a different culture if a phrase doesn't seem right, ask about the specific meaning. (And that different culture can just as easily be Midwest to Brooklyn or Vicksburg as USA to India. And here I speak from experience.)



March 4, 2008

Latinos Looking Over Shoulder

Prince William County, Virginia, police begin enforcement of one of the nation's strictest anti-illegal immigration policies. The article looks at effects on the first day.

read more | digg story

March 2, 2008

Obsolete Skills List

Okay folks. Time to feel old.

Here is a list of Obsolete Skills.

Personally I still mourn the loss of WordStar. One of the best word processing programs around -- once you got used to its "dot command" format.