Tag Archives: newspaper

Finally, I found Ernie Pyle

February 2, 2013

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here is your war coverYou’d think that as both a WWII junkie and a newspaper guy I’d have read Ernie Pyle before. I’ve read a few of the war correspondent’s columns in anthologies, but never the bulk of his work until I came across two of the three collections of his famed syndicated columns in book form at an antique store.

So, 70 years after Pyle sent his stories from North Africa back to the 300 newspapers who ran his stuff, I ate up “Here Is Your War.”

Pyle’s brisk newspaper prose, the short, tight sentences, the reader-friendly language, the storytelling format combined with the folksy, guy-next-door tone helped me understand why he became a legend both to soldiers, sailors and airmen and to mom and pop back home.

His great technique of identifying sources not just with their name and rank but with their street address back home — “The navigator was Lieutenant Davey Williams, 3505 Miller Street, Fort Worth, Texas.” — was not simply a feel-good for the man in uniform and a way to sell newspapers around the country but a tool that brought reality and truthfulness to the reporting Pyle did. These weren’t fictional characters fighting this war but real people, sons and daughters, neighbors, someone to care about.

Although flatly unable to write about strategy due to war-time censorship, Pyle doesn’t let that stop him from giving the folks at home an understanding of what life was like for those at war. A foxhole is a foxhole, and he doesn’t sugarcoat the drudgery, the terror of shells exploding nearby and especially the destruction and death war causes.

Yet, as good as all these columns are about the early portion of the U.S. involvement in World War II, it’s at the back of “Here Is Your War” that Pyle may have made his best contribution, and that’s not to slight all those earlier columns.

Because as the Allies pushed the Germans out of North Africa, Pyle is able to add analysis to the stories he shares, to give people back home a perspective on the war that might have been perfectly timed. Take this excerpt:
“In the final phase of the Tunisian campaign I never heard a word of criticism of our men. They fought like veterans. They were well handled. They had enough of what they needed. Everything meshed perfectly, and the end was inevitable. . . . Even though they didn’t do too well in the beginning, there was never at any time any question about the Americans’ bravey. It was a matter of being hardened and practiced by going through the flames. Tunisia was a good warm-up field for our armies. . . . The greatest disservice the folks at home did our men over here was to believe we were at last over the hump. For actually — and over here we all knew it — the worst was yet to come.”

Pyle’s columns from the war in Europe went into another book, “Brave Men,” that I’ll be searching for soon. He went to the Pacific Theater afterward, and his columns from there are collected in “Last Chapter.” That book, published posthumously, is just as good as the collection from North Africa, but much shorter. His stories of how an aircraft carrier got flights off — and on — are exactly the kind of reporting we see in the Twin Cities with the “Good Question” segments on the CBS affiliate, WCCO-TV.

This war the United States had been in for four years came to an end for Ernie Pyle just four months before the war itself was to end. A Japanese bullet found him in April, 1945.

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A feast for hungry lovers of superb writing

June 20, 2012

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I’ll tell you how I know good writing: I savor the words and sentences as I read them.

I go back and slowly re-read paragraphs, tasting the language in the same way I slowly enjoy a sip of cabernet or a bite of an Italian beef sandwich, the Chicago kind that drips gardiniere down my arms and onto my shirt.

When writing is good, it lingers in the tastebuds of the brain.

Like you I’ll bet, I usually can’t wait to get to the end of a good book. But with the best books, I tend to read in small bites, stretching out the joy of reading to make it last longer.

I’ve been doing that with “Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns.” There are 400 pages in this Overlook Press hardcover, and although I bought it sometime this winter I’ve just finished the last entry here in June.

Yep, it’s that good.

Columnists, my heroes

Okay, maybe it’s because I’m a newspaper guy that I’ve been so taken with this is collection of commentary pieces that appeared in American newspapers over the past 250-plus years, Ben Franklin’s from before this country even was this country.

But no matter what your life’s work, if you want a thorough refresher course in history, if you want to know what Americans have cared about over the years, if you want to get in touch with the spirit and soul of the United States, just read these columns.

 There’s Ernie Pyle writing from the front lines of World War II about “the God-damned infantry,” Mary McGrory covering the funeral of JFK, Mitch Albom on a college basketball team you’ve never heard of and Mike Royko skewering the infamous Picasso that sits (where else?) but in Chicago’s Daley Plaza.

There’s great sports stuff. You can re-read the renown Grantland Rice’s piece on the famous Notre Dame football backfield — you remember, “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again.” There’s equally famous Red Smith on the ’51 Dodgers, the “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff.”

But there’s also intriguing columns about obscure people and events. A guy a never heard of from the LA Times, Bill Plaschke, wrote a beauty of story, one I didn’t want to end, about a letter-writer who used to rip him — and, well, you gotta read that one yourself to find out the ending.

Back in 1956, a Southern writer named Harry Golden wrote this hilarious and courageous column satirizing racism in his neck of the woods with an ingenious idea called “The Vertical Negro Plan.” The theory? Black people are only a problem for whites when they “set.” So his solution to school segregation is to remove all the seats, so that white students don’t have to “sit” next to a black student. And that’s just the start of Golden’s superb commentary piece.

There’s so much more. There’s Art Buchwald and Dave Barry. There’s Ernest Hemingway (yeah, he was a newspaper guy) and Dorothy Thompson. There are writers newspaper junkies of a certain age (always wanted to work that phrase into my writing) hold up as heroes, folks like H.L. Mencken, Langstson Hughes, Damon Runyon, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill and so many more.

With time running out…

Perhaps the one piece that jumped out at me as the penultimate example of the columnist’s art — superb writing as the clock ticks toward the newspaper’s press deadline — was written by Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald, a piece syndicated in newspapers across the country.

It was carried in papers on 9/12/2001.

It was headlined, “We’ll Go Forward From This Moment.”

It was addressed to the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center towers.

It asked the questions, “What lesson did you hope to teach up by your coward’s attack?…What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that it failed. Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause. Did you want to make us fear you? You just steeled our resolve. Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.”

There’s more, so much more. In this and in just about every entry.

If you savor good writing, treat yourself to a great big serving. But one bite at a time.

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Inside the head and heart of famed newspaper cartoonist Bill Mauldin

February 5, 2011

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On Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963, the back page of the Chicago Sun-Times carried what may be the most memorable editorial cartoon of the 20th century.

Cartoonist Bill Mauldin’s drawing of a weeping Abraham Lincoln from his Lincoln Memorial chair captured the emotion of a nation when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

That Mauldin was able to get to the core of human feelings shouldn’t have been surprising to those who had been able to literally be in the foxholes with soldiers during World War II thanks to the cartoons of “Willie & Joe” that Mauldin drew from the front lines and newspapers across the nation carried.

How Mauldin was able to document history in the space of an editorial page cartoon is documented itself by Todd DePastino in a thorough biography published by Norton in 2008 and now out in paperback, “Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front.”

There’s all the usual biographic information, of course, but DePastino takes us inside the complex artist-journalist-author to learn what drove the man to do all he did. Readers will learn not only how Mauldin crafted those “Willie & Joe” cartoons by why he did them and why they were important enough to society to earn Mauldin the Pulitzer Prize.

The war-time “Willie & Joe” cartoons first made Mauldin a celebrity, but the cartoonist’s path to fame took him first to Army life where pettiness and inequality reigned, allowing Mauldin to take the side of the underdog, the abused foot soldier, with the aim of helping them make it through the grim, grimy, death-filled, often hopeless side of combat and army life.

Mauldin’s confrontation with Gen. George Patton — and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower telling Patton to leave the cartoonist alone — is a freedom-of-the-press scene that never made it into the award-winning “Patton” movie but DePastino tells well.

Like each of us, though, Mauldin was not without his faults, and DePastino isn’t shy about recording the lows of his subject’s life as well as the highs. The ambiguity of human life becomes clear as we read how this one talented artist could prick the conscience of so many — and really have an impact that forces change — while having conscience failings of his own in his personal life.

More than a few Mauldin cartoons help illustrate each chapter, but this isn’t a picture book. For a complete list of that kind of work, go to http://www.billmauldin.com. Most of his work is out of print, but they might make for a fun search when your browsing your local used books store. — bz

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Archbishop Nienstedt’s remarks at 100th anniversary of the Catholic Bulletin/The Catholic Spirit

January 14, 2011

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(Remarks of Archbishop John Nienstedt at The Great Catholic Get-Together of 2011, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Catholic Bulletin/The Catholic Spirit – January 6, 2011.)

As we celebrate 100 years of The Catholic Spirit, we could point to so many achievements. Imagine the number of words that have been written over that time! The moments of great joy and deep sorrow that appeared on the pages. Life changing events for our world and the Church that were captured by a camera. And the discourse of a few archbishops!

While we cannot minimize these human achievements and the manifestation of the creative talents of so many, what is it really that The Catholic Spirit has meant to the hundreds of thousands of Catholics, and others, who have read its pages week after week?

Above all else, The Catholic Spirit has been and continues to be a tool to bring the faithful into closer relationship with Jesus Christ. The Catholic Spirit is at its best when it unpacks the news of the day through the lens of the teachings of the Catholic Church. It helps Catholics really understand how to live out their faith in the workplace, at school, at play, in the public square. It does this by telling stories – the important stories that are present in our parishes, in our Catholic schools and in places great and small throughout this archdiocese. And the hope is that in each story, column or editorial, the reader encounters Jesus, is strengthened by his presence and brings the fruits of this encounter to those around him.

In November, the Pope himself affirmed the irreplaceable role Catholic newspapers play in forming Christian consciences and reflecting the Church’s viewpoint on contemporary issues. Where the secular media often takes a relativistic and skeptical attitude toward truth, Benedict tells us that the Church must bring the truth of Christ to the world and the Catholic newspapers play in encouraging dialogue among readers as a way to form “critical and Christian consciences.”

The Catholic Spirit strives to be this formative influence in the life of this archdiocese. As publisher of The Catholic Spirit, I am grateful for the care the staff takes in ensuring that the truths of our Catholic faith shine through on the pages of the newspaper – and on the website, Facebook and Twitter, for that matter. And as the words written by those who contribute to The Catholic Spirit will most certainly be delivered in very different ways in the future, the purpose of those words – to bring all who encounter them closer to Jesus – will never change.

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Minnesota Catholic paper starts second century with a head start on reaching audience in the digital world

January 7, 2011

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(The following is the text from Bob Zyskowski’s talk at The Catholic Spirit newspaper’s 100th anniversary party in downtown Minneapolis Jan. 6. His talk included a seven-minute video that demonstrated the new http://www.TheCatholicSpirit.com)

Many of you know Father John Malone. I see from the chuckles that you do.

Well, Father Malone has a brother named Jim.

Jim Malone came home from the office one day, and before he could get his coat off his wife, Kath, who worked for years in the office at Hill-Murray, said, “Jim, you gotta read this.”

She held out a copy of the Catholic Bulletin to him.

“Could I take my jacket off first,” Jim asked.

“Nope. You gotta read this.”

Turns out a column I’d written had touched Kath, and she had to share it with Jim because she knew it would touch him the same way.

That was more than a few years ago, but touching lives is something that has happened pretty regularly over the last century, thanks to the Catholic Bulletin and its successor, The Catholic Spirit. And we know that because people tell us we touch their lives.

A catechist in Hopkins let us know she uses The Catholic Spirit to prepare teenagers for Confirmation.

A teacher in Woodbury orders 25 copies each school year so that everyone in his class can keep up to date with the news of their church.

A small faith-sharing group in Maplewood — a RENEW group that still meets — uses articles from The Catholic Spirit as discussion starters.

A pastor in Roseville told me at every parish meeting he goes to somebody brings up something they read in The Catholic Spirit.

These are just some of the anecdotes that confirm in my mind a philosophy I’ve pushed our staff to live by: I don’t want The Catholic Spirit to be liberal or conservative – I want it to be useful.

It’s a philosophy that has earned The Catholic Spirit national recognition. Over the past century this newspaper has done tremendous work, but during the past six years The Catholic Spirit has become one of the very best diocesan newspapers in North America. For this medium-size archdiocese out on the prairie to have its Catholic paper named No. 1 four times – and never lower than third – in competition with New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Baltimore — says a lot about the newspaper, but it says so much about you, our readers – about the excellence you expect from us.

What’s more important than recognition by Catholic journalism judges is that you appreciate what we do. You truly are friends of The Catholic Spirit. Your being here tonight to celebrate with our board and our staff is testament to the fact that you understand the need for our church to communicate in the best possible ways.

There are lots of friends of The Catholic Spirit. We hear from readers all the time that as soon as the paper comes in the mail they read it cover to cover.

But we also get this type of note, and

Stephanie Anderson, sent this, and it’s printed right off a computer screen.

“Being a single mother of two very active and smart kids, I don’t always have the time to read the actual paper when it comes in the mail. It’s nice to be able to read articles online through Facebook.”

While so many of us appreciate holding our reading material in our hands, a growing audience lives in the digital world, and our church must as well.

For us, the future has arrived. TheCatholicSpirit.com this year was named the best diocesan newspaper website.

But we’re not resting. Shortly after we came back from New Orleans with that award in June, our web guru, Craig Berry, told me he was dumping the old site and creating something new. By September that “best website” has been completely revised. As we take a look at it today you’ll get a peek into how The Catholic Spirit is spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ as it begins its second century.

We’ve jumped into social media so that we can touch even more lives. We push out our stories by promoting them on Facebook.

We send an e-newsletter to several thousand folks, giving them the headlines and the gist of stories and a link they can click on to send them right to that story.

And as of yesterday morning, TheCatholicSpirit had 18,540 followers on Twitter. That means that every time we post a story 18,540 people get a tweet with a link to our website.

As Catholic newspapers have for 100 years, Catholic media today – through e-mail and video and smart phones and iPads and Facebook and Twitter and whatever comes out next, as well as through printed publications – will have the same charge:

  • Spread the Gospel and the teachings of the church.
  • Form consciences and values.
  • Deepen spiritual and prayer life.
  • Challenge Catholics to live morally and justly.
  • Connect Catholics to their faith, to their parishes, to their fellow parishioners, to the archdiocese and to the wider church.
  • Report stories that affirm others’ faith and inspire even more noble acts.
  • Celebrate Catholic traditions, strengthen Catholic identity and enliven the Catholic community.

I’ll be honest. There are days when I wish I were five years older and could have retired before all this new technology entered our lives.

But most days I’m excited to be part of this great movement in Catholic journalism. God is giving us a great opportunity to reach and inspire not only those faithful readers of The Catholic Spirit but thousands more who see our work on their computer screens.

It’s a great way to start a second century, don’t you think?

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