I'm a new junkie. 4:30AM I'm up and scanning online news services followed by some torture at 5:00AM on my elliptical machine while surfing the news channels: CNN, MSNBC, and the like. Breakfast is at 6:00 with the Boston Globe. Let's not even talk about the blogs I read during the day.
Since I was 14 years old I've also read a weekly newsmagazine. Even though I usually know all the stuff in it 'cause of the daily news fix, I like the perspective a weekly. When I was a kid I read Time Magazine because that’s what my parents read. Time continued through college and my first job until I met one of the smartest people in the world—Lou Crandall, the chief economist at Wrightson ICAP, LLC. I worked with Lou for four years and he basically forced me to change from Time to The Economist. I thank Lou for that because The Economist gave me a terrific world view and is written with, um, well, more intelligence than Time. I read The Economist every week for 19 years, through life changes such as moving to Japan, acquiring a wife and daughter, several job transitions, a stint in Hong Kong, and finally settling in the Boston area. Then 3 years ago I stumbled upon The Week, a newsweekly that’s even better than The Economist. Let's just say it's less stuffy than the Brits who produce The Economist so I switched again. So that's 10 years with Time, 19 with The Economist and 3 (so far) with The Week.
What the heck does all this have to do with the best paragraph to ever appear in a magazine?
Thanks for your patience, but I need to explain a bit more. The Week has a great feature article called The last word. It is reprinted from a different publication each week and the editors choose fascinating articles that I read without fail.
So this week's issue has an article called "Why Barry Bonds matters" by Chuck Klosterman. The article originally appeared as "The Breaking Point" in the April 24 issue of ESPN The Magazine. I'm not interested in baseball and I could care less about Barry Bonds, although because he has been in the news I do follow the saga of drugging and Babe Ruth’s record.
In his article, Klosterman argues that the Barry Bonds issue is something that future historians will point to when they take a dim view of how we live today. I was fascinated and read the article twice. But one paragraph, where Klosterman is writing about what people many years from now will remember about the past six years just nailed everything about good writing for me. The paragraph (with lead in and lead out sentences) reads:
"Tomorrow, today will be yesterday -- and Bonds will represent what that was like
In November 2000, the United States held a presidential election, and nobody knew who won, so we just kind of made up an outcome and tried to act like that was normal. Less than a year later, airplanes flew into office buildings, and everybody cried for two months. And then Enron went bankrupt, and the U.S. started acting like a rogue state, and "The Simple Life" premiered, and gasoline became unaffordable, and our Olympic basketball team lost to Puerto Rico, and we reelected the same president we never really elected in the first place. Later, there would be some especially devastating hurricanes and three Oscars for an especially bad movie called "Crash."
Things, as they say, have been better."
Is this the best paragraph to ever appear in a magazine? You decide, but for me, yes.
I read a lot of crappy writing. (I write some too). Marketers and PR people need to read great writing and they need to emulate the clarity and brevity of the best writers out there. Don't settle for awful writing on your Web sites, press releases, and marketing collateral. Write well and you will sell more.