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Nieman Report On Journalism

READING, WRITING, AND NEWSPAPERS, by 12 Nieman Fellows; special issue of Nieman Reports quarterly, 60 pp, $.50.

By Douglas M. Fouquet

Engaging in self-criticism is a popular sport among newspaper people, and Harvard's 12 Nieman Fellows have done so this week in an original approach to the perennial question: why is the quality of American newspaper writing so bad, and what can be done about it?

Theodore Morrison, lecturer in English, coaxed the 12 visiting newsmen into doing this symposium, and in an intense introduction to the study he throws a lot of charges at the newspapers. The Niemans answer in 12 subsequent articles that tell which writing weaknesses can actually be remedied and which ones just can't be helped. The result is a valuable exercise and education for newspaper writers and newspaper readers.

The Niemans have two big points, one for writers and one for readers: (1) conscious and unconscious apathy among newsmen is making it hard to break up a large number of journalistic conventions that actually impede the telling of the story; and (2) an understanding of some conditions of newspapering that inevitably must block "good writing" will help the reader to tolerate the necessary evils.

It is only unfortunate that the 12 articles repeat each other so frequently and often devote too much space to points which are obvious to most people; these two structural flaws may alienate a few readers early in the report. But these writers and readers who stick with the Niemans will discover the surprisingly fresh observations and illustrations that make it hard to dispute the authors' two main points.

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