Greg T. Spielberg

Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Lee Carpenter’s Tim Tebow story needs a warning label

In Uncategorized, writing on August 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

This picture is from a fun post  by Tom Scott. He affixes warning labels to different journalism stories that reflect the reason for their short-comings. For instance, “Warning: To ensure future interviews with subject, important questions were not asked.” This mask my favorite because the practice or writing “some would say” or “some claim” should never get into print anywhere, any time. It’s like being at the bar with a group of friends and calling out one of them: “Hey, why are you being so awkward?” Even if they’re not being awkward at all, it gets a false ball rolling.

Leaning on “some would say” or “some would claim” or “according to some” automatically means we’re dealing with a pale-faced sandwich of a story that should be tossed out. It’s not necessarily a journalist hiding his/her own views as it is creating a false reason for the story.  Earlier today, before I saw the Scott page, I tweeted this:

Yahoo is forever king of misleading, false, gossipy headlines. “Injury reinforces concerns about Broncos’ Tebow.”

The story by Lee Carpenter is exactly the type of story that should come with a warning, except it should just say, “This story contains the phrase ‘some people claim.'” Carpenter suggests that Tim Tebow, the rookie quarterback for the Denver Broncos, is considered unfit for the NFL. He says that Tebow’s pre-season plunge into the endzone, where he injured a Bengals defender and himself, reinforces an existing concern about Tebow’s style of play. There certainly has been criticism of Tebow’s game in the past — that he runs too much, that he doesn’t have a good a good-enough arm. Those are fair. But Carpenter doesn’t actually reference a critique at any point in his story. Instead, he writes, “those who say his style of throwing the ball is too cumbersome to translate to the professional game and find his headfirst plunges into the chests of tacklers as a great way to get hurt rather than a heroic display of manhood.”

“Those who say” needs a link. Otherwise Carpenter isn’t building an argument off anything. Barreling into the end zone is common. NFL quarterbacks do that. John Elway barreled into the end zone during Super Bowl XXXII. Donovan McNabb did the same thing last year and broke his ribs. Both are legit, long-career QBs. McNabb-frequent All-Pro. Elway-Hall of Famer and former Bronco. Steve Young scrambled, too, and won a Super Bowl. He had a weird delivery, played second-string, went to BYU.

“And so,” Carpenter writes, “a month into his NFL career, before a real game has been played, the worst fears about Tebow have been realized.” Whose fears? What fear. Mike Kils, sportswriter for the Denver Post, does a great job laying out the injuries that have resulted from Tebow’s running back style and includes quotes from past Florida teammates and specific examples. No warning needed.


Copying Ben McGrath

In Uncategorized, writing on August 10, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Hunter Thompson famously copied The Great Gatsby to learn the architecture of Fitzgerald’s sentences. His cadence. The length of each sentence. His punctuation and commas, and the speed with which Fitzgerald unfolded information. It was probably like osmosis. Picking up patterns that repeated themselves as they have to throughout an entire book.

This is such a good idea, and I don’t hear about much. I used to play piano and violin in elementary and middle school, and sheet music was essential to picking up the tune. Even for Suzuki, the memorization method, we started off with sheet music.

I’m copying a Ben McGrath Talk of the Town piece from the New Yorker right now. I have trouble synthesizing information and breaking it down from disjointed pieces of information into a clean flow. Talk of the Towns move quickly (as stories in the best publications typically do), but they still have the textured images and details that make visualizing the scene very easy. I want to be able to do that.

I just got through the first paragraph of his short piece about leadership training at the Columbia School of Arts. I’m only through one paragraph, and it’s scary. It feels like plagiarism and seems like a waste of time. The plagiarism tenseness is like breathing underwater with scuba gear for the first time. My entire body — from my chest to my fingers — wants to pull away from the action, and my breathing got shallow. I think this will be good, though.

Sharing natural resources

In writing on June 4, 2010 at 4:24 pm

A journalist is nothing without good information resources. Starting today, I'm sharing all the link I've ever used in published work. Photo courtesy of Suzy Lafferty, who's next door at

In writing about MBA bloggers (to be published later this month), I got a chance to speak with a lot of B-School students. Central to the story is writers’ desire to document their experience and provide useful information to readers. This made me think a lot about my own blog and how I can provide useful information. The MBAers approach the information question from two perspectives: Students sharing info on the B-School experience and future business leaders developing thoughts on their professional space. I’m coming from the perspective of a journalist. Here’s what I’m doing:

Today, I created a resource section in the primary menu bar. This section will be a collection of all the links I’ve ever used in my published stories. This section includes colleagues’ work that inspired my own, vital statistics that form the framework for the story and color that has helped me add flavor. Links are curated by topic and include the author or source.

Soon, I will add “conversations,” a section that highlights the people I’ve spoken with who helped me build my story and permanently expand my thinking. It’s very rare that I’m not greatly influenced by contemporaries I talk to in person or on the phone. I want to credit them and, more importantly share the knowledge transmission.

I’m not sure what the third section will be yet. Either a collection or useful government, trade and statistical databases, my growing contact list or a bibliography of scholarly essays.


The inspiration for this addition comes from two instances. At Mizzou, I wrote my thesis on the value of building community — from a reader perspective, journalist perspective, branding, advertising, infrastructure and bottom-line perspective. Although classic media-economic thinkers gave me the necessary groundwork to move onto next-generation models like community, no one was actually writing about community. I had to pull theory from e-commerce scholars, community scholars, branding scholars and other sources. Reading the work was fun, synthesizing it was challenging, finding relevant work was brutally time consuming. I recommended Mizzou create a database of past masters’ students sources so that, in the future, J-Schoolers could more efficiently build on the work of others. That’s what I hope to do here — especially in the community and experience space, which are the two most important topics for our industry.

The second time I wish I had access to a great database of information was at BusinessWeek. My editor, an Associated Press veteran, would assign me a story like this: “Find out how the recession is affecting prices for consumer goods.” Go. Go where? I spent full days in front of the computer trying to track down the right experts, right associations, right databases. Again: Brutally time consuming. I hope my resource section helps journalists move more quickly with more valuable resources.