Thursday, February 21, 2008

"...perverse and often baffling..."

Last night I was listening to an episode of This American Life and came across a gem of a story:

Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for The New Yorker and author of the books, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000) and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005), was describing his early foray into journalism. In his story about his days at the Washington Post, he had, as he describes it, a "Jayson Blair moment," in which he realized that mistakes he put in the paper could have major world impact: from altering the stock market by misreading a ledger to goading the National AIDS Conference to hold their annual meeting in Australia by surreptitiously adding Sydney to a list.

Despite all of this, work at the paper could be rather dull.

In order to make life a little more interesting he made a bet with one of his co-workers to see who could get the phrase, "raises new and troubling questions" into the paper most often. This turned out to be far too easy a challenge as just about every article published "raises new and troubling questions" about something or other. After some debate they settled on a new phrase:

"...perverse and often baffling..."

After many failed attempts, (points were not given if the editors removed "perverse" or "often" - the phrase had to be fully intact) Gladwell managed to get these words onto a front page article.

To find out how, check out this entry in Slate magazine.


p.s. At the end of the Gladwell’s segment, Ira Glass, offhandedly tells listeners:

By the way, if there’s any ambiguity in here at all, young journalists, please note: putting false information into the newspaper is wrong.

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