ATTENTION American Society of Newspaper Editors...

THEO LIPPMAN JR.

April 01, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

ATTENTION American Society of Newspaper Editors conventioneers. This is where Price Day's "Notes & Comment" used to appear.

For a longer earlier period, before The Sun went to horizontal makeup of its editorials, "Notes" appeared as the last long skinny one-column editorial in the third of three vertical columns.

Except that it wasn't an editorial. Nor was it was a column. I always think of it as a pasquinade.

The reason for that journalism trivia is that the host newspapers for the ASNE convention, namely us, have provided as a souvenir for the ink-stained visitors a book of some of Price Day's best pieces, compiled and edited by Joe Sterne, the editor of the editorial pages; Hal Williams, former Sunday Sun editor and author of the 1987 history of the Sunpapers, and Tony Day, City College grad and Price's son, now of the Los Angeles Times. It's titled "Day in The Sun."

As a general rule, old newspaper writing is not very readable. I generally advise against it. In this case, I warn you conventioneers against it. I warn against it because Price Day is too readable. You'll steal it. You'll file these good lines away in your memory. You'll forget you did it, and one day, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next year, but someday, you'll write it as if it were your own.

Plagiarism, even unconscious plagiarism, is one of the most important no-nos in journalism. So I advise you to put "Day in The Sun" in the back of your rolltop desks unread and leave it there till after you retire.

I read a lot of newspapers. If I come across lines like

"Once upon a time there was a child who had read the story of the first Thanksgiving and understood it."

or "The secret of learning to write is that learning to write is impossible."

or "The fun never sets in Fort Lauderdale."

or "The other day a man we know watched a nest-building mockingbird stagger through the air with an 18-inch twig just barely within its capacity to carry. It flew, he says, like a B-26 bomber coming home full of holes."

I'll blow the whistle on you.

By the way, "pasquinade" means "an anonymous lampoon posted in a public place, satire usually having a political significance" (of course, all you newspaper editors already knew that). Price Day wrote in different veins -- travel pieces, reminiscences, descriptions of the unusual and the commonplace -- but he did satire and lampoon better than any newspaper writer I know of, before or since. And, yes, it was anonymous. Almost all his "Notes & Comment" pieces carried neither by-line nor signature.

A colleague has suggested that "Day in the Sun" be used to teach students how to write, but I oppose that idea. I believe that the secret of learning to write is that learning to write is impossible.

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