A periodical about the news business -- working in it, reading it, defending it, criticizing it, getting dumped on by it, living it.
Sunday, May 11, 2003
LOOKING FOR A COLUMNIST. What, let another airline go down the tubes? Let's not. Poor greedy American Airlines execs have been silly, yes, and stupid, maybe, dealing out quiet millions for themselves while asking the workers to give up pay and bennies. But the airline is still worth another chance.
How about this to make the unions happy: How come nobody tips an airline stew? The cabin attendants do much more for us than the average waitress. Did a carhop ever bring you a pillow and a blanket? Did a maitre d' ever handcuff a noisy, bothersome patron in the next booth (yeah, well, Hard Rock Café doesn't count)? When you threw up in a New York taxicab did the driver ever tell you it's all right, it can happen to anybody?
You tip the barber who provides two-year-old Sports Afields; why not something for today's USA Today? OK, bad example, but you get the idea.
No, and we think it's time that cabin attendants got some appreciation. A stew who has left the ground to travel with a pipeful of cranky, earache-prone whiners and their snooty parents should get something for his or her efforts besides a sneer in response to their practiced "Bubbeye! Bubbeye!" When they quit, they may be replaced by out-of-work Aeroflot lady wrestlers, so a little kindness now is for the passenger's own good.
We're suggesting this schedule: One percent of the ticket price per safe, dry landing. Add $5 for special favors such as pillow, blanket, pilot's wings for the brats, playing cards or extra peanuts. Add $5 for aisle seats if your stew is adept at nudging you with a shapely hip as she passes; deduct $5 for elbow or any part of the hand. Add $5 if she slips you the unclaimed first-class meal; deduct $5 for coach. Add $5 if she stores your caged cat in a safe, quiet spot behind the coats; add $10 if you tell her the cage contains tarantulas (it's worth it for her extra dialogue).
For extra appreciation, take up a collection among fellow passengers and hand it to the designated bubbeye lady on debarkation in a sealed barf bag, with a wink and a grin. Some gratuities may fall to the waste disposal crew due to misunderstandings about the bag, but as the trend catches on, postflight bag inspection time will bring its own rewards in case your flight hasn't been perfect.
How the cabin crew splits the tips is up to them. When the pilots find out that hundreds of dollars in cash and travelers' checks are being traded back there, the stews may ask for locks to be put on the other side of the flight deck door too.
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BEGGING OFF. A columnist tires of backstabbing his colleagues, quoting his mother, Shakespearean back-fence neighbor and precocious children. He fakes a cough, calls in sick and sneaks off to the golf course.
At the first tee, the Swedish women's golf team asks him to fill out a foursome for a practice round, after which they spend a glorious two hours in the sauna. In the country club bar, he meets Michael Douglas, who shares the news that he's in town to make a movie about the newspaper. They buy into the club fund-raising raffle, and the columnist wins a new Cadillac convertible. Henry Kissinger drops by their table, drinks too much, and they are enthralled by his never-before-published insider stories about the last seven presidential administrations.
Dazed and delighted, already making mental notes for his Pulitzer acceptance speech and his best-selling book, the columnist collides on the country club porch with his newsroom archrival, the sports writer. Fearing the wrath of his editor, the columnist cajoles, "Hey, you're not going to report this, are you?"
"No," said the rival, grinning maliciously. "But then, neither are you."
MARMALADE-DROPPER. It's a label Paul McFedries, proprietor of the Word Spy http://www.wordspy.com/ puts on any content that makes a newspaper reader, well, drop the marmalade. We always called it muffin-spitter. The Wordspy is dandy reading. Also seen: Second Coming Type, which is to say very big letters indeed.
MAKE YOU A STAR. Tips that corporate public relations professionals are telling each other these days, with BONG's own comments:
They say: Don't wear stripes; they dance around on the screen and are distracting.
We say: Do wear stripes, making the viewers think some corporate weasels finally are in jail and the economy is about to recover even without the president's cronies getting rich on tax cuts.
They say: Don't lean back in your chair; you'll look short and fat.
We say: Oh, go ahead and look short and fat. Reporters will think you used to be a newspaper middle manager.
They say: Reporters don't have to ask your permission to quote you.
We say: Nor to serve themselves from your cigar box.
They say: Don't audio or videotape an interview in front of a reporter unless you are 99 percent sure you are going to be mistreated.
We say: Especially with all the cheap secret bugging stuff you can buy on the Internet, though if a reporter starts talking to the geranium, it's probably not all that secret any more.
They say: If you are using a PowerPoint Presentation, speak directly to your audience for at least 3 minutes before presenting your first slide.
We say: With the lights out, please.
They say: Always carry an extra bulb for your PowerPoint projector.
We say: Some office supply houses got 'em that double as hip flasks.
They say: Cliches work great with the media but make you sound unintelligent when delivering a speech.
We say: Hey, nobody likes a wiseass flack. And don't be blaming the press just because you let a doofus make your speech for you.
They say: Nothing is 100 percent off the record. Notes are made and reviewed by editors, publishers and lawyers.
We say: What, you think you're the only one buying stuff off the Internet?
They say: Tough questions don't trip people up. Sloppy answers to easy questions are what do people in.
We say: The smart reporters save the zinger questions for after they snap their notebooks shut and stuff them into their pockets, belch loudly, start picking their teeth and move toward the door, when you think they're off duty.
They say: "I don't know, but I will find out and get back to you before deadline" is an infinitely better thing to say to a reporter than making up facts that doesn't [sic] turn out to be true.
We say: No fair. This business was a lot more fun when Ron Ziegler would just call his last big juicy bullflop statement "inoperative."
UNIPRESS YOUR PANTS. Donald Liebenson does a masterful job reporting the release of "UNIPRESS: United Press International--Covering the 20th Century," by UPI graybeards Richard M. Harnett and Billy G. Ferguson (Fulcrum Publishing). See the Chicago Trib's story on it at
Unipressers included such immortals as David Brinkley, Eric Severeid, Harrison Salisbury, William Shirer, Howard K. Smith, Walter Cronkite and Helen Thomas. Unipressers regularly packed 75 minutes into every hour because they felt an angelic mandate to beat the AP, which they did often.
Not that they always liked the pace. The book, Liebenson says, tells of a solo
Some couldn't. Harnett and Ferguson relate the tale of an overwhelmed UPI employee at Raleigh, N.C., who took a rocket from an editor demanding he "get with the program" and get a story moved. The employee responded that he was doing three other things and had only two hands.
Another editor's response: "Fire the crippled bastard."
"Unipress" is $50 from Fulcrum Books: http://www.fulcrum-books.com/html/unipress.html
EXCEPT FOR GRAMMAR, SPELLING, FACT, STYLE, LIBEL AND TABOOS. A true-life memo from a perfectly rational copy editor, the selfsame Charley Stough, BONG Chief Copyboy, responding to a reporter's gripe in 1993 at the Dayton Daily News. The reporter's name is unrecorded here. Let that be a lesson:
"I wouldn't mess with your stories. Your stories are perfect, just like you. I place your stories on a pedestal and bask in their radiance. I imagine sitting with them in darkened bistros, with soft music of Gypsy violins and eunuchs for waiters, dreaming of ancient wonders and exotic poetry, sipping fine wines and rejoicing in the feel of silk on skin. Why would I change a word of your stories?"
COMIX SECTION. The Further Adventures of Herman "Speed" Graphic, ace photographer for the Chagrin Falls Commercial Scimitar, and his Faithful Companion, Typo the Wonder Pig.
PANEL ONE: Crouching behind a prickly pear along the riverbank in the dark, the Deft Duo review the evening so far. Typo observes, "Well, Boss, trying to rent bleacher seats behind the president for his whistle-stop tax-cut speech was probably optimistic!"
Speed agrees, "So who knew the party already had them all sold?"
PANEL TWO: Typo notes, "And riding down the assembly line on the 10 millionth Chagrin Fixtures Company's toilet seat was a bad camera angle!"
Speed shrugs in his trenchcoat, the deathbed gift from an ancient mystic wire service executive editor on a fog-shrouded eastern island, "I didn't think the president's speech at the factory would go so long!"
PANEL THREE: Typo adds, "OK, and that brings us to the balloon drop at Chagrin Hall! Whose idea was it to print Absentee Publisher Gimlet Peen's face on them?"
Speed asserts, "Well, everybody else brought back war souvenirs too! I don't know why they had to indict Gimlet!"
PANEL FOUR: Ducking the beam of a searchlight from a passing attack helicopter, Typo queries, "Gee, Boss! You'd think the Secret Service would have other things to do! Air Force One left hours ago!"
PANEL FIVE: Peering through binoculars, Speed warns, "It's worse than that, Typo! Here comes Features Editor Hyperba Lee, and her All-California Mudslide Surfing Team! Our only hope is to stick together, Typo! Typo? Typo?"
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BONG Bull is the product of Chief Copyboy Charley Stough, a copy editor at the San Antonio Express News. Email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org for any reason. Phone (210) 250-3191 after 6 p.m. central time.