Radio job in Los Angeles

Thursday, November 16, 2017
As I do from time to time, I’m sharing word of an opening I’d apply for if I were … (fill in the blank; in this case: willing to leave Chicago).

This one’s for a radio job in Los Angeles, where the news director tells me he’s …

“… looking for a full-time reporter. This position requires energy, passion, great writing and storytelling skills as well as the ability to use natural sound in a big way. We pay well and pay moving expenses. The ideal candidate must also be able to write Mervin Block style. … I’m willing to train a promising candidate who has been working in TV.”

Interested? Send a note, and links—no attachments, please—for your resume and work samples to

Writing about writing: My favorites (so far)

Monday, November 6, 2017
My friend Brad Farris wrote me earlier this month* to share small-business consultant John Jantsch‘s list of the best books on writing. Brad flattered me with a challenge to put together my own list.

I can’t say this is a list of the best, because I have yet to get to so many no-doubt wonderful books about writing, including Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craftwhich I need to get around to. [Update, Nov. 6. 2017: I’ve now read it, and it’s great. The only book on writing that has brought me to tears. Highly recommended, even though King's core advice echoes the essentials of The Elements of Style.]

But here’s a brief rundown of the writing about writing I’ve found most influential:

The Elements of Style
by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

Since high school, when I first encountered White’s revision of his old English professor Strunk’s guide to writing well, it’s shaped everything I’ve written — in print, on air, online. Along with the AP Stylebook, it’s the one text I require for my journalism students at Roosevelt University. White’s description of Strunk’s philosophy has helped me see the writer’s job as similar to a lifeguard’s: “Will felt that the reader was in serious trouble most of the time, floundering in a swamp, and that it was the duty of anyone attempting to write English to drain this swamp quickly and get the reader up on dry ground or at least to throw a rope.”

On Writing Well
by William Zinsser

Zinsser applies Strunk and White’s work directly to journalism, with rigor and enthusiasm: “The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what — these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.”

Zinsser’s follow-up 1983 guide, Writing with a Word Processor, helped a lot of writers learn to stop worrying and love the computer. And Roger Ebert’s brief 2002 essay for Yahoo Internet Life magazine, “In Cyberspace, Writing is a Performance,” remains central to the way I teach journalism“In some imaginary sense, you are reading this right now, even as I write it. I have keyboarded in so many e-mails, so many forum messages, so many arguments and replies, that I instinctively think of this activity as a conversation. ... To write it on a monitor is somehow to create it publicly.”

Writing Broadcast News — Shorter, Sharper Stronger
by Mervin Block

Block’s ruthless, sarcastic and funny directives for getting to the point — forged in the fires of broadcast news, where every second and every syllable count — are all the more useful now, when almost everyone is in essence, as Ebert notes, writing broadcast news. Every newsroom should bake into its culture Block’s “Dozen Deadly Don’ts,” including this one: “Don’t start by saying someone ... is in the news. ... Go ahead and tell the news. That’s what a newscast is for. That’s why they call it a newscast. Everyone who’s mentioned in a newscast is ‘making’ news. So when writers say someone ‘is making news,’ ... they’re wasting time.”

What are your favorite books about writing? Please comment below.

* Originally posted Jan. 11, 2014.

How to fight 'fake news'

Monday, October 16, 2017
With rising concern about “fake news”—a term I reject, because it’s an oxymoron—the Downers Grove (Ill.) Public Library invited me to present a talk on “News Literacy in a Digital Age.”

I accepted because I believe (as you can hear below) that, if the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, the price of our liberty in this day and age is our eternal vigilance that the information we use to make our democratic decisions is reliable.

Need tools to defend yourself against the onslaught of false information from friends, relatives or trolls? Check out these video highlights from my presentation, Sept. 26, 2017.

Or skim the slides at

P.S. What do you think about the sound in this presentation? Recorded on an iPhone in my shirt pocket.

2 places to see me next week, and 1 place to hear me right now

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
1. Tuesday, Sept. 26, I’ll be lecturing at the Downers Grove Public Library on the dangers—or not—of “fake news.” It’s free and walk-ins are welcome, but the library hopes you’ll register in advance.

2. Wednesday, Sept. 27, I’ll join a distinguished panel to discuss “Truth and Ethics Across Earned and Paid Channels” before the Chicago chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. That one’s not free.

Bonus: Can’t wait that long? Hear my Sept. 6 interview with President Obama’s strategist David Axelrod in podcast format anytime right here.