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Posts by Roy Peter Clark

About Roy Peter Clark

Senior Scholar

Roy Peter Clark has taught writing at Poynter to students of all ages since 1979. He has served the Institute as its first full-time faculty member, dean, vice-president, and senior scholar. He contributes regularly to Poynter.org on topics such as writing, reporting, editing, coaching writers, reading, language and politics, American culture, ethics, and the standards and practices of journalism. He is the author or editor of eighteen books. His most recent include Writing Tools, The Glamour of Grammar, Help! For Writers, How to Write Short, and The Art of X-ray Reading.
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Our love/hate relationship with the copy desk

The decision of Dean Baquet and other leaders at The New York Times to ditch and switch some copy editors has caused a donnybrook. The copy editors are angry and worried; so is their union; so are other editorial workers at the Times, who fear the erosion of standards with fewer green eyeshades on the job; … Read More
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When telling detail reveals more about the teller than it does about the tale

Writers and storytellers search for the telling detail. Donald Trump found one and used it to describe Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” In what is now widely considered an ill-advised tweet, the president described seeing her at an event at his Florida home: ...to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New … Read More
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How I stopped worrying and learned to murder my darlings

This is the first in an occasional series of essays on important writing and language books and the wisdom they offer. One of the most famous bits of writing advice over the last century comes to us from British author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, known to his mates and university students as Q. (He should not be confused with the Quartermaster, … Read More
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Why journalists need to appreciate the lyric

Bob Dylan has delivered his speech, accepting the Nobel Prize for literature, an award I believe he richly deserves. In the 4,000-word address, he argues that the lyric is meant to be heard as music and not read. But he then expresses his appreciation for “The Odyssey,” and the oral poet Homer: “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through … Read More
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Frank Deford revealed the essential quality of good writing: Focus

Frank Deford was to sports writing what Secretariat was to horseracing, what Babe Ruth was to baseball, what Michael Jordan was to basketball, what Ali was to boxing, what Pele was to soccer: the undisputed master of his craft. There were contenders, to be sure, among the ink-stained wretches of the last half-century. Red Smith, W.C. Heinz and Dick Schaap … Read More
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One last lesson from Don Murray, America's greatest writing coach

There were five huge boxes sitting at the loading dock of The Poynter Institute yesterday, waiting for the FedEx truck to pick them up. They are filled with more than 125 file boxes containing the literary effects of Donald M. Murray, in my opinion the most influential writing teacher America has ever known. The precious content of those boxes — … Read More
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And the winner for the best Pulitzer Prize lead in 2017 is….

With apologies to Antony and Julius Caesar, we have come not to bury leads but to praise them. We would expect winners of Pulitzer Prizes to craft good leads — and this year they have. It is not always the case. Even in the digital age, reporters can bury a lead. Or they can write "suitcase" leads with tons of … Read More
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For as long as newspapers are alive, support them

Two recent items have me scratching my head about the future of newspapers. On March 23, I sat in the back row of a conference room at The Poynter Institute to watch an interview with veteran news reporter and anchor Campbell Brown. She has been hired by Facebook to help the company develop standards and practices at the places … Read More
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Remembering Jimmy Breslin and the 'gravedigger' school of news writing

I am a writing teacher, not a beat reporter. No one calls me "scoop." So it was fun last September to help break the news that the Daily Beast was about to publish a new piece of work from Jimmy Breslin. It was a pleasure to analyze the essay, part of a fictionalized memoir, and reflect on the work … Read More
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Did Donald Trump just come up with a new use for quotation marks?

I think that Donald Trump has invented a new use for quotation marks. In several now-famous tweets, the president accused Barack Obama of wiretapping him during the election. Trump used quotation marks around versions of the word but also used the word without quotes. When the accusation was criticized from many quarters, Trump, and those speaking for him, said that … Read More
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Where’s the sweet spot for covering President Trump?

In 1985, two scholars, James S. Ettema and Theodore L. Glasser, tried to sort out the philosophical and practical differences between beat reporting and investigative journalism. Editors of a certain vintage were known to intone "all reporting is investigative." While true on the surface, that aphorism hides a crucial distinction. Anyone who has worked at a news organization more than … Read More
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In Trump's anti-press rhetoric, a dark echo from the past

When I heard that Donald Trump had branded journalists as “an enemy of the American people,” I had a flashback. It was early in the 1980s, and I was running one of Poynter’s first seminars on media ethics. One evening, with popcorn served, we had a showing of a movie, starring Steve McQueen, called "An Enemy of the … Read More
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Rounding out portrayals of Arabs and Muslims in the news

Whenever pressure mounts on the American press to be more responsible, my reflex is to consult an ancient guide for wisdom. Published in 1947, "A Free and Responsible Press" is the work of a World War II-era commission, sponsored by Time magazine founder Henry Luce and led by Robert M. Hutchins, perhaps the leading intellectual of his day. Its … Read More
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15 rules for a saner news experience

There is little comfort in knowing that the crises we face in our political life today have been visited upon us before. It still helps to look back. George Santayana was only half-right when he said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." He might have added: "Even those who do remember the past sometimes fail … Read More
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40 things I learned about the writing craft in 40 years

This is the first piece I have published since my official retirement from Poynter on New Year’s Eve. I have lots of work ahead of me, but it has been fun and instructive to look back. If you reach your destination in decent shape, it’s easy to forget the bumps in the road behind you. Better to look at the … Read More
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