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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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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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Want to be a good writer? Keep talking.

I am retiring from The Poynter Institute on New Year’s Eve. As my wife and I watch the ball in Times Square slide down to 2017, our fervent smooch will not just mark a new beginning. It will be the first celebration of almost 40 years well-spent. When my retirement was announced — along with the news that I would … Read More
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What journalists can learn from Trump's campaign slogans

Political slogans have been with us almost since the beginning of the republic: "Give me liberty, or give me death." But they seem to have made a comeback in the age of Trump. Trump’s was the face that launched a thousand tweets. But it also inspired a dozen slogans that Hillary Clinton could never match. As my colleague Rick Edmonds … Read More
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Confessions of an alienated journalist, revisited

In his song “My Back Pages,” Bob Dylan, who just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, told the world that “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” All writers have back pages. For me that phrase signifies things that I wrote months or years ago when I was the same person — but different, maybe … Read More
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To write a great election story — or World Series story — rehearse your lead

Sometime this evening, election night, or early tomorrow morning, hundreds if not thousands of journalists will be working on their leads. If they are smart, and most of them are, that process has already begun. With the end of the race in doubt, writers will be immersed in a process we call “rehearsal.” Among other benefits, rehearsal offers an antidote … Read More
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What I learned about writing from listening to Bob Dylan

This Saturday night at a St. Pete bar and grill called Harvey’s, I’m playing a three-set gig with my long-time musical friend Dave Scheiber. I have not played in a while, and I have some new gear — a Hammond portable organ, so I went to his house for a brief rehearsal. Before long we were swapping the vocals in … Read More
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