It isn't often that editorial writers devote space to their own craft of writing, but those at the Chicago Tribune did just that in a New Year's Eve editorial,"Why using exciting words can make you a worse writer."
"We worry that the admonition to gussy up writing by jettisoning short, common words in favor of allegedly more expressive terms could go awry in the hands of the average seventh-grader," the Tribune wrote. "Sometimes people do say things. They don't aver them. Or assert them. Or declare them. . . ."
The editorial also said, "To be crisply effective, writing has to efficiently communicate what the writer wants to say. It must be clear. When words send readers exploring alleys of thought — I wonder if, by laconic, she's trying to tell me 'lazy,' or 'slow'? — then the less likely they are to rejoin the writer's journey, let alone ever reach its destination.
"So remember, we beg, that words are tools, not bludgeons. Avoid obscure polysyllabic words that no one else can read, spell or ... understand. Because your readers may just stop reading. For them, nothing is easier.
"Once you know all the fancy terms, you can choose to wield the simple ones with greater force.
"In time, a skilled teacher will mention that understatement often is more powerful than overstatement.
"Clarity of purpose, precision of word choice, not letting readers stray from the journey, tools not bludgeons, the power of understatement. Now you're getting somewhere.
"Writing a true declarative sentence, Hemingway said, is 'a good and severe discipline.'
"In other words, it's a lot of fun."
- Jill Geisler, Columbia Journalism Review: 10 resolutions for a new year
"When a poor country is hit with a sudden catastrophe — say, an earthquake or a tsunami — the world is quick to send aid,"Nurith Aizenman reported on New Year's Day for NPR.
"But a slow-moving disaster, the kind that unfolds over weeks or even months, is another story. There are no immediate, dramatic TV images, no screaming headlines.
"And that means it's really tough for aid groups to raise the money needed.
"Just ask John Graham. He's the head of the aid group Save the Children, and he's watching a slow-moving disaster unfold in Ethiopia as the world remains largely oblivious.
"It started with last year's winter rains — or rather, the lack thereof. They were barely a trickle. Then came spring.
"'[Spring rains are] not terribly reliable, you see them fail fairly frequently,' says Graham. 'But this year they failed quite spectacularly.'
"Everyone hoped the summer rains would make up for it. But they were almost as disappointing due to this year's El Nino, a periodic warming in the Pacific Ocean that plays havoc with weather systems worldwide.
"Pastoral regions where people raise cattle were among the worst hit. 'Animals died,' recalls Graham. 'People by tens of thousands had to trek into places where they could get water, get food. A lot of the children were severely malnourished."
"By August, it had become official: Ethiopia is in the midst of its worst drought in decades. . . ."
Aizenman also wrote, "This type of situation is common in aid work, says Tom Kirsch, director of the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. He says the world is just a lot more responsive to immediate disasters than it is to slower-moving ones.
"'Where we have a very dramatic sudden event that causes widespread destruction and death it captures a lot of attention,' says Kirsch.
"By contrast, he adds, 'When you get to the cases where you can actually prevent a crisis like this — where we can intervene early and prevent widespread death — we don't get the media attention. We don't get the politicians falling over themselves to organize funds.'
"Kirsch says the irony is that slower-onset disasters often have more severe and lasting consequences. . . ."