Tuesday, November 13, 2007

FROM OUR OVERSTOCKED ARCHIVES: USA TOMORROW

[50 years ago last summer, your editor covered his first story in Washington. Throughout the year, the Review will exhume some of his writings]

Sam Smith
1996

After many months of research and development, the Progressive Review is pleased to report the first details of its forthcoming daily newspaper: USA Tomorrow.

The design of a daily newspaper is the result of - among other things - tradition, market surveys, the prejudices of the owner and the editors' attempt to figure out what these prejudices are. It can be, by consequence, a product that nobody really wants. To correct this, we have come up with a set of principles for a new newspaper that represents a revolutionary departure from current journalistic practice, to wit:

The front page will be almost entirely devoted to news. News is defined as something that has happened, something that is happening or something that is going to happen. News is not what someone said about what is happening nor what someone perceived was going to happen nor what the editors thought the impact of something happening would be on its readership.

Stories will have to get to the point within the first paragraph or two.

Opposition to any policy will be reported on the same page as the main headline and not on the jump page as is now commonly the case. In fact, jump pages will be eliminated where possible and no story will jump more than two pages. Editors know that few readers turn to the jump page, which is why they bury so much good stuff there.

Next to any story about pending legislation will be a box listing what the bill actually does. This data is increasingly considered extraneous in contemporary journalism.

Early in any story about a proposed policy will be some indication as to who is likely to be helped and who is likely to be hurt if it is approved.

The exception to hard news on the front page will be one or two stories selected for their human interest or literary quality. Throughout the paper will be stories that are funny or interesting even if not newsworthy.

All perceptions (including those excised from the front page and those typical of op-ed pages) will be published in a section called Perceptions. Space will be given based on a rigorous analysis of the perceptiveness of previous perceptions. This is unlike the current situation in which people are allowed to perceive based solely on their position or fame rather than actual prescience. Letters to the editors will thus compete on a equal basis with paid columnists.

Somewhere towards the back of the paper will be several pages devoted to quotations, official and otherwise. This section will have something of the feel (and small type size) of the classified section. Since highly ranked persons can easily be solicited for quotes by e-mail, this improvement alone, if widely adopted, could free up several hundred Washington reporters for actual news coverage in place of several hours at lunch with an assistant secretary of state in order to obtain a ten word print bite.

Journalists will be encouraged to think of themselves as part of a trade and craft that sometimes rises to an art -- but which is never a mere profession. They will be gently reminded that British journalists call themselves "hacks."

Reporters will be expected to know how to write. The submission of databases with transition sentences will no longer be permitted.

Perhaps most controversial will be USA Tomorrow's gossip section. It will surely be attacked by other papers as "sleazy, supermarket tabloid journalism." But the section will be premised on an incontrovertible fact: the powerful in Washington and elsewhere thrive on gossip. Why should the American people be denied access to the same information used daily by their leaders and journalists?

The obituary department will be staffed by good writers who will be encouraged to remember that it's the subject and not their copy that is supposed to be dead.

There will be a section called Style With Class: Unlike the Washington Post's Style section, the tacky -- as well as most of the rich and famous -- will be excluded. Those featured will have to have some admirable qualities rather than just being notorious. The egregious, outrageous, and avaricious who make up the better part of lifestyle sections will be relegated to a new section called Can You Believe This?

News that affects ordinary readers will be removed from the business and real estate sections and put in the front of the paper where it belongs.

There will be heavy use of news photos. In particular, the use of a sequence of photos to tell a story will be revived. People will once again be given a chance to reflect on news images rather than just having them flash subliminally by on TV.

There will be a labor section as least as big as the business section on the premise that there are at least as many workers as there are corporate executives among the paper's readers.

The sports section will resume telling people what actually happened during athletic contests. Salary negotiations, athlete attitude problems, and random downloads from the cortex of sports columnists will be printed only on a space available basis.

There will be no editorial page. As a sop to the editors, however, one or two signed editorials will be permitted. If they don't get better quickly, however, these, too, will have to go.

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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal