Six questions to ask yourself before you type that anecdotal lead

How make sure the anecdote doesn’t cause more problems than it solves

Nothing winks more seductively at a reporter with a complex news-feature than an anecdotal lead–the promise of a way to quickly personalize the abstract and set the stage for a broader proclamation of the story theme.

And nothing falls apart more quickly.

The reason is the problem that sent you to the Anecdote Solution in the first place: life is so damned complicated. Too often, the anecdote requires too many grafs to make it work. Still other times, even when the anecdote can be compressed into a couple of grafs, it may simply be a trick to hide from the awful truth: You’ve got a news story on your hands, and you ought to tell it like one.

Six questions to ask yourself before you type that anecdotal lead

Six questions to ask yourself before you type that anecdotal lead

What follows are six considerations you ought to apply every time you are toying with using an anecdotal lead: Should I delay it? Should I distill it? Should I reject it? Do I really need that quote inside the anecdotal lead? What would the Wall Street Journal do? (I’m serious.) And, Am I using the right language to stitch my anecdote to my nut graf?

Question 1: Should I delay my anecdote?

Consider a story my newspaper published last October, at the height of the Ford Explorer/Firestone scandal. Until about 9 p.m., the top of the story read like this:

(First, the anecdote)

On the day Christy McKinney turned 21, she was running an errand with her 7-month-old son, Conner, in her Ford Explorer when the tread on her left rear tire peeled loose, causing her car to sail off an embankment on Interstate 40 near Alma, Ark.

The sport-utility vehicle rolled over twice. Conner was ejected from his baby seat, suffering cuts and bruises to his face. He was the lucky one. His mother was thrown from the vehicle–even though she was wearing her seatbelt, according to her attorney–and landed on the highway’s grassy shoulder. McKinney and her son were rushed to a hospital in nearby Fort Smith, where doctors declared her a quadriplegic.

(Then the news)

The toll from defective Firestone tires mounted on Ford Explorers has largely been measured by the 101 deaths compiled so far by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But as investigators delve into about 400 injury cases, story after horrific story emerges, some involving people who have become paraplegics or quadriplegics.

These victims will have to cope with the fact that their life expectancies have been shortened as they face the prospect of raising enough money–sometimes millions of dollars–to pay looming medical bills. The costs also include an emotional toll, changing the lives of these victims’ families who must now grapple with caring for their loved ones.

(Then back to the anecdote)

In McKinney’s case, her mother, Sheri, was recently forced to give up her job, leave her own 13-year-old son behind, and borrow money from friends and relatives so that she could watch over Christy, who has been transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Christy cannot speak, but her mother can read her lips.

“Everyday I dry her tears [that] roll down her cheeks when she says, ‘I miss my baby,’ ” said Sheri, 39. “I try to hold myself together. I can’t let her see me fall apart. But she is my baby and her crying makes me cry.”

(Then back to the news)

NHTSA officials said they don’t know how many people have ended up like Christy–seriously injured as a result of an accident involving defective Firestone tires.

The 101 reported deaths and 400 injuries over several years are a small fraction of the 41,611 deaths and 3.2 million injuries caused by traffic collisions last year alone. About 8,000 of those injured are people who will never walk again, according to officials with the National Spinal Cord Injury Assn., who say the numbers of people left paralyzed in Firestone-related crashes has shed new light on the financial and emotional costs associated with such debilitating injuries.

The rising toll of casualties is also bringing fresh attention to the tendency of some vehicles’ roofs to cave in during rollover accidents, which can cause fatal or crippling head and neck injuries. Consumer safety advocates…

And so it went until an hour or so before the home-edition deadline, when Deputy Managing Editor Leo Wolinsky decided that the back-and-forth shuffle between poignancy and news should be replaced by a more direct, clearer approach. Leo felt we had published so many stories about the human tragedy of the Firestone/Ford controversy that this story would unfairly suffer from a feeling of sameness.

So the published story proclaimed the news first:

The toll from defective Firestone tires mounted on Ford Explorers has largely been measured by the 101 deaths counted so far, but as investigators delve into about 400 injury cases they are finding horrific tragedies that have left some victims paraplegics or quadriplegics.

These victims will have to cope with shortened life expectancies as they face the prospect of raising enough money–sometimes millions of dollars–to pay looming medical bills. The costs also include an emotional toll, changing the lives of these victims’ families who must now grapple with caring for their loved ones.

The focus on the news allowed a third graf that explained the causes of the maiming more fully, giving the piece more immediate perspective:

The number of people left paralyzed in these crashes is also bringing fresh attention to the tendency of some vehicles’ roofs to cave in during rollover accidents, which can cause fatal or crippling head and neck injuries. Consumer safety advocates have criticized the auto makers for not strengthening roofs and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for not toughening the roof-crush standard.

A close look at some of these tragedies, alongside an analysis of government crash data, shows that in many cases the human cost was raised by occupants simply not wearing their seat belts. But in others, the violence of the crash–and the damage to the vehicle–was so extreme that wearing a seat belt was not enough to save passengers or drivers from death or crippling injuries.

Then, in the fifth graf, having established the institutional context, the story gave us the Christy McKinney story in five consecutive grafs:

Consider the case of Christy McKinney.

On the day she turned 21, McKinney was running an errand with her 7-month-old son, Conner, in her Ford Explorer when the tread on her left rear tire peeled loose, causing her car to sail off an embankment on Interstate 40 near Alma, Ark.

The sport-utility vehicle rolled over twice. Conner was ejected from his baby seat, suffering…

From there, the story returned to the macrocosm.

The lesson is that if you have real news, use real news. As the writer, Davan Maharaj, puts it:

Although the anecdote was gripping and maybe powerful, it still couldn’t cut to the chase fast enough. My humble feeling is that we often try to play on readers’ emotions to draw them into stories. They would read on if you were honest with them from the start, and if they were interested in the topic. I’m now a convert to the belief that any time you can use a straight lede instead of an anecdotal one, go with the straight one. Reader reaction to this piece also confirmed that it worked.

Question 2: Can I do a better job of distilling my lead anecdote?

Bill Rempel and Rick Serrano’s investigation of Texas’ concealed-handgun law, published shortly before the 2000 presidential election, was another example of balancing news and color. No one anecdote could serve this story, because it was about the cumulative effect of the law. And yet the key to understanding the impact was the litany of what various individuals did with their gun permits. So the story hit you hard, with the essential contrast between goal and result, for two grafs…

AUSTIN, Texas — In 1995, four months into his first term as governor, George W. Bush signed a bill ending a 125-year ban on concealed handguns in Texas. The new law, he vowed, would make the state “a safer place,” and he promised Texans that license applicants would undergo rigorous background checks.

But since the law took effect, the state has licensed hundreds of people with prior criminal convictions–including rape and armed robbery–and histories of violence, psychological disorders and drug or alcohol problems, a Times investigation has found.

…and then, for the next two grafs, distilled the bare-bones details about six cases that would be detailed later on:

James W. Washington got a license to carry a concealed weapon despite having done prison time in Texas for armed robbery. So did Terry Ross Gist, who left a trail of threats and violence in court records from North Carolina to California. A license also went to an elderly Dallas man with Alzheimer’s disease.

Still others committed crimes, ranging from double murder to drunk driving, after they were licensed. A frustrated commuter, Paul W. Lueders, shot and severely wounded a Houston bus driver. Audi Phong Nguyen ran with a Houston home invasion ring. Diane Brown James helped her husband kidnap a San Antonio woman to be their sex slave.

Then back to the macro to continue establishing the sweep of the problem:

About 215,000 Texans are currently licensed to carry concealed weapons. The state concedes that…

Question 3: Should I reject the anedcote entirely?

Jennifer Oldham’s first draft of her scoop about the danger of certain home furnaces employed a semi-featurized lead because the concept was unfamiliar to most readers. She graciously shares the draft with us:

On chilly nights this fall, tens of thousands of unsuspecting California homeowners will turn on attic furnaces similar to those that fire investigators say sparked numerous catastrophic blazes across the state over the last 10 years.

Federal safety experts and furnace makers and distributors have known for years that horizontal attic furnaces manufactured by Consolidated Industries ignited dozens of fires in single-family residences, townhomes and condominiums from San Jose to San Diego.

Yet the government, the manufacturer, and the 30 distributors who sold these attic furnaces under various brand names in the state from 1984 to 1992, have never issued a recall or a formal warning urging homeowners to get these units inspected and replaced.

”These things are latent time bombs in peoples’ attics and they don’t know about them,” said Dan Mogin, a San Diego attorney who this summer filed a class action lawsuit against Sears, a Consolidated distributor. ”The Consumer Products Safety Commission has absolutely dropped the ball on this.”

But Jennifer switched to a hard-news approach after recognizing the quality of her material. Notice that in the published version that follows, she used five grafs of news before a quote (rather than three in the first draft), and that she found a better quote–one that provided a more satisfying transition from the news. You’ll also notice that by the time the story was published, Jennifer’s inquiries had pushed the product safety commission into action, reflected in the third graf:

Defective attic furnaces manufactured by a now-bankrupt firm have caused scores of residential fires in California in the last decade, fire inspectors and federal investigators said.

Hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting homeowners may be at risk from these furnaces, made by Indiana-based Consolidated Industries and sold under various brand names in California from 1984 to 1992, these sources said.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the independent federal agency responsible for warning citizens about defective products, has known about the problem since the mid-1990s. It said Tuesday it will issue a warning today about the furnaces.

The commission’s staff said it didn’t issue a warning earlier because federal law prohibits it from doing so while it is in negotiations seeking a product recall. The agency said it had hoped to issue a recall, but was unable to do so when Consolidated-which would have been required to finance this action–went out of business.

The lack of a recall or warning to date had created a sense of foreboding among many fire-prevention officials.

“Every time we have a cold snap we have a furnace fire,” said Michael Freige, a senior fire inspector for the Torrance Fire Department, who said Consolidated furnaces have caused seven residential fires there since 1994.

The issuance of a warning without a recall means that homeowners probably will have to foot the bill…

Similarly, Greg Miller eschewed the temptation for an anecdote when writing about the frighteningly sophisticated ways companies are snooping on employee computer use. The trend was important enough to be recognized directly. So Greg gave it to you like this:

Moving beyond merely monitoring employees’ Internet use, many of the nation’s largest companies are quietly assembling teams of computer investigators who specialize in covertly copying employees’ hard drives and combing them for evidence of workplace wrongdoing.

These high-tech investigators employ tools and techniques that originally were devised for law enforcement to catch criminals but that are now spreading rapidly in the private sector at Microsoft, Disney, Boeing, Motorola, Fluor, Caterpillar and dozens of other major companies.

The development, little known outside the narrow community of corporate security experts, is sure to raise tensions over workplace privacy in an age when the lives of millions of workers are inextricably tied to their office computers.

Employers say that their rush into the field known as “computer forensics” is a matter of self-defense, that being able to retrieve computer evidence is essential to their ability to catch employees engaged in everything from spending too much time surfing the Internet to stealing company secrets.

One basic test is: Does the anecdote actually represent the greater truth of the story? Watch the problems you get into when that doesn’t happen:

LAS VEGAS–This was the end of Martina Bauhaus’ job interview for one of the most sought-after positions in town:

She put on black velvet high-cut briefs and a tight, low-cut bustier. When her name was called, she walked out of the fitting room to pose in front of a mirror-and half a dozen silent, staring men who measured her up like cattlemen at a livestock auction.

She didn’t get the job. ”Maybe,” said the slender 28-year-old, ”they didn’t like my body in their outfit.”

Know what the story’s about yet? You’ll have to keep reading.

Bauhaus, a law student with a master’s degree in public administration, wasn’t seeking a job as a model, but as a cocktail waitress at the new Suncoast Casino. Nobody asked her the difference between a screwdriver and a rusty nail. She just had to have the right look.

Indeed, despite the supposed ”Disneyfication” of Las Vegas, widespread unionization and the arrival of politically correct corporate casino owners, the image of the sexy cocktail waitress remains as vital here as a one-armed bandit.

Here comes the point:

But while young drink servers are still willing to don revealing outfits, there’s something of a rebellion afoot–literally: growing discontent over the use of high heels.

Led by a cocktail waitress named Kricket Martinez, members of an impromptu labor organization dubbed the Kiss My Foot Coalition are campaigning against shoes that they say can rack their bodies. After a rally in May, several casinos in Reno agreed to allow lower heels, and the loose-knit group now hopes to…

It’s not just that the story requires 168 words to get to the point (the 6th graf). It’s that most of those words (the first four grafs) don’t lead you to the point. The story is about discontent over the use of high heels, but the anecdote doesn’t contain a single reference to footwear. Thus, the story virtually starts over at the 5th graf by building a contrast so that the 6th graf will have something to bounce off. In other words, we wind up with two leads: an anecdotal lead, and a contrast lead. That’s one lead too many.

Why not dump Martina Barhaus, exploit the central contrast–the (shortened) fifth and sixth grafs–and start the story this way:

LAS VEGAS–Despite this city’s supposed ”Disneyfication,” the image of the sexy cocktail waitress remains as vital here as a one-armed bandit.

But there’s something of a rebellion afoot–literally: growing discontent over the use of high heels.

Led by a cocktail waitress named Kricket Martinez…

Question 4: Do I really need that quote inside my anecdote?

One indulgence that frequently sabotages anecdotal leads is the quote. By trying to give the anecdote a “voice,” the writer pushes down the key grafs that define the story. Consider this New York Times story from last year, with the questionable quote grafs underlined:

Kevin Heebner, owner of a building supply store in Temple, Pa., got a call four years ago from his longtime stockbroker recommending an investment in short-term bonds. Assured the bonds were safe, Mr. Heebner invested $100,000.

Three months later, Mr. Heebner received a stunning phone call. The broker told him the money he had put into the bonds was gone. The president of the broker’s firm, Old Naples Securities, had stolen it.

With his wife about to deliver their third child, Mr. Heebner, 36, reeled at the thought of a $100,000 loss. Then he remembered with relief that his account was insured by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, created by Congress in 1970 to protect investors’ brokerage accounts from just the sort of theft he had been a victim of.

“I knew that if they didn’t find the money from Old Naples Securities, I was insured through S.I.P.C.,” Mr. Heebner recalled. The broker’s “business card and letterhead all had S.I.P.C. logos on them; I figured S.I.P.C. would cover it.”

Mr. Heebner figured wrong. For more than four years, the corporation maintained he was entitled to nothing — even though three federal courts ruled that S.I.P.C. should pay him $87,000. Only last week, days after a reporter interviewed the lawyer representing the corporation about Mr. Heebner, did the investor receive a check in the amount of $87,000.

“I never got the sense that S.I.P.C. was in any way trying to help my client,” said William P. Thornton Jr., a lawyer at Stevens & Lee in Reading Pa., representing Mr. Heebner against the corporation. “They are very aggressive in attempting to prove that investors’ claims do not come within certain legal definitions within the S.I.P.C. statute. And the loser is the investor.”

At a time when millions of United States citizens have taken their money out of federally insured banks and put it into brokerage firms, the Securities Investor Protection Corporation’s charge of protecting the investing public has never been more important. Officials of the S.I.P.C. defend the corporation’s record and say they must be vigilant in protecting against invalid claims by investors.

But a close look at this little-understood organization shows that the safety net that investors believe the corporation offers is in fact full of holes.

Industry-financed but not government-backed, the corporation is a far cry from the agency on which it was loosely modeled, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which protects bank customers against losses.

Created three decades ago…

You can see why the writer used the first quote: It allowed him to move seamlessly from the end of the quote to the third graf, playing off “figured” with “figured wrong.” But was it worth it? It ate up 39 words, delaying us from understanding what the hell the story was about.

Even less functional was the second quote, which ate up 64 words to underscore a thesis that the writer had yet to introduce: the S.I.P.C. is full of holes. It took 351 words before you got to that proclamation graf–a trip made 29% longer by the two quotes.

Even without the quotes, the story used an unusual amount of length–248 words–to make its general point. If you think you don’t lose a proportion of your readers by that kind of dawdling, you’re kidding yourself. Make your point first, then let your characters talk.

It’s not that quotes can’t be used before the story gets to the point, but they tend to work better with a simpler story. Read this one, which also used parallel language to link quote and syntax. The difference was, this story linked the quote to the point of the story, not just to a less crucial passage in the anecdote:

SAN LUIS OBISPO–Amy Hutchcraft, 18, and her dormmates set up housekeeping in a lounge next to a laundry room. Ashleigh Boslet, a freshman from Pennsylvania, was crammed into a conference room with five others.

They were luckier than Birgitte Marthinsen, who arrived at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo two weeks ago from Norway and still had not found a place to live when school started Monday.

“My mother was crying on the phone last night,” Marthinsen said as she dejectedly scanned the housing bulletin board in the campus union. “She said, ‘What’s happening to you?”

What’s happening is that students here and at other coastal universities in California have been caught in the jaws of a serious housing crunch. From Berkeley to Santa Barbara, stories of students employing desperate strategies to find places to sleep have become the stuff of local legend.

The crunch reflects the same conditions, if aggravated, that have afflicted the broader housing market across California. Too many people are chasing too few beds, especially in desirable coastal areas where slow and no-growth pledges have become as much a litmus test for political office as a hatred of taxes.

Words used to get to the point (the third graf): 93.

Question 5: What would the Wall Street Journal do?

The Journal offers cheap eight-week introductory subscriptions. Get one. Look at the front page news features for a week. You will notice that the Journal seems to virtually command its writers to bring anecdotal leads into focus by the fourth paragraph.

The Journal is mocked in some quarters for a formulaic approach to its anecdotal leads, but that’s about as valid as complaining that Sam Phillips used a formula because all those Sun Records rockabilly hits of the ’50s were between 2:25 and 2:50. In both cases, the trick was letting great ideas unfold creatively within a disciplined setting.

You can almost set your watch by the efficiency of the Journal’s anecdotal leads. By the fourth paragraph you have sampled great density of detail, or a scene, or a quote–or possibly all three. You know quickly whether you want to go along for the ride.

Like this 1999 Journal piece, an e-commerce story which needed only 122 words to get to the point (paragraph 4, sentence 2):

Toby Lenk, founder of eToys Inc., is sure he knows the secret behind e-commerce: Build a single-focus Internet site, laser in on one swath of the marketplace, and don’t let customers get confused by clutter from other goods or services.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Inc., is just as confident about his strategy: Build the world’s biggest online department store, then offer everything from Milton to modems, so shoppers can get whatever they want with one click on their Web browsers.

Messrs. Lenk and Bezos are true pioneers, Internet innovators with astonishing net worths. So if they’re both so shrewd, how could they take such widely disparate gambles?

That question, in one form or another, is on the minds of executives everywhere. In businesses ranging from aerospace to telecommunications, CEOs are making big strategic bets, trying to position their companies to take advantage of productivity and technology trends that they are only beginning to understand. And very often, major players are making completely divergent bets within the same industry.

Or this from the Journal, which needed only 114 words to do both the set-up and the nut in three graphs:

BERLIN–As Nick Jackson hawks tickets for his morning walking tour of the city, a Chilean woman approaches, her parents in tow, and spits out three questions in a single breath: “How long is the tour? Do you have senior-citizen discounts? Do you go to see the Wall?”

“Three-and-a-half hours. It’s 15 marks [$8] for everyone. And, yes, I’ll take you to the Wall,” the guide replies. “Not that there’s much left,” he confides to someone else.

As the Chileans will discover, the Berlin Wall is hard to find in Berlin today. In fact, its remnants are more prominently displayed at Honolulu Community College than in the heart of the city it once divided.

Of the roughly 28 miles of wall that bisected Berlin, less than a mile remains standing, and most of that is in an out-of-the-way…

You are also likely to find a stronger writer’s voice in many of the Journal’s anecdotal leads than other papers, because the Journal’s devotion to compression forces the writer to employ his own devices rather than the journalese of standard anecdotal leads. Like this one, which took 133 words to get to the point (graph 4, sentence 2):

SAN FRANCISCO–There was romance in the resumes: She, a computer consultant turned fashion model; he, an Apple Computer engineer turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur. They were young, beautiful, wired for love.

But caution fell between them. During a yearlong courtship, Alfred Tom held back, wary of revealing too much. Then it happened. After an afternoon with friends, Mr. Tom took Angela Fu back to his car. There, on the front seat of his 1994 Integra, he went for it.

“Naturally, I flinched a bit,” Ms. Fu says. But in a stroke it was done: a signed nondisclosure agreement, or NDA, in the parlance of the Net set. Henceforth, Ms. Fu would be sworn to silence about her boyfriend’s trade secrets.

DNA, meet NDA, your twisted, alphabetical cousin in the world of baser instincts. Long the province of lawyers, investment bankers and other traffickers in corporate secrets, nondisclosure agreements have gone mainstream.

Propelled by Internet frenzy, an epidemic of secrecy pacts is…

Former Journal editor and writer Bill Blundell puts it this way in “The Art & Craft of Feature Writing,” a wonderful book based on the Journal’s in-house writing guide: “We do try to engage the reader’s attention immediately. We do try to give him a clear idea of what we’re up to early on. And we do try to prove our assertions in detail throughout. If these add up to a formula then I suppose we have one. But it offers the reporter enormous latitude, and it’s the same one successful storytellers have used for centuries.”

So beat yourself up a little more. Be more purposeful, more unforgiving of your tangents. Play a game with yourself: Draw the line at four graphs per anecdotal lead–and that includes the graph that tells the reader what the story’s about. See whether it forces you into some positive habits–better distillation, better use of your own voice as a writer, a stronger sense of urgency in your work, and greater clarity.

Question 6: Am I effectively connecting my anecdote to the nut?

Does the anecdote flow seamlessly into the grafs that proclaim the story? Too often, writers use anecdotes to evade that responsibility.

In the three examples that follow, the writers achieved a precise fit. The underlined language illustrates the glue between the anecdote and the proclamation.

First, a news story–almost a consumer expose–that used the anecdote to give you a picture:

The letter from Ralphs Grocery Co. to its fruit and vegetable suppliers began cordially enough. Addressed ”Dear Valued Supplier,” it laid out Ralphs’ plans to add 44 stores in Northern California and build a warehouse to service them.

Then came the hard sell: To help pay for Ralphs’ growth, suppliers would have to pony up thousands of dollars in shelf fees, either in cash or by surrendering dozens of cases of free products. The implication was that if they didn’t, there would be no space on the chains’ shelves for their goods.

Ralphs’ letter is one demonstration of a dramatic escalation in the grocery industry’s demands for so- called slotting fees, which food companies pay to get supermarket shelf space for new products. Manufacturers shell out $9 billion a year in shelf fees, representing more than half of the supermarket industry’s total profits, analysts estimate.

Mergers have sharply consolidated supermarket ownership in recent years. Five giant companies account for 40% of U.S. grocery sales, and the mega-chain share of the Southland market is even higher.

With grocers using their newfound clout to expand the ”pay for space” system to the produce aisle, and to charge $25,000 or more to place new products, small suppliers say they can’t compete.

Regulators are watching with concern. Three federal investigations…

The second example is a feature, written during the 2000 New Hampshire primary, about how that state’s citizens have become spoiled by the disproportionate attention presidential candidates pay them:

MANCHESTER, N.H.–John McCain is sweating. He has just downed an entire bowl of three- alarm chili and half a bottle of fizzy water.

Twenty Manchester firefighters are lunching with the Republican presidential hopeful at a long table in the central station’s glassed kitchen, called the fishbowl. It would be a cozy respite from the freezing cold if not for 100 reporters crammed in a corner, staring.

With the nation’s first primary on Tuesday drawing ever closer, McCain is shopping for votes the New Hampshire way-one at a time. The senator from Arizona puts down his spoon and asks in a low purr, any questions?

”I’ve got one,” Firefighter Mike Lawrence pipes up. ”How do you like…”

The room falls silent. The cameras zoom in for tonight’s sound bite. How does he like-what? The flat tax? Russia’s new president? The threatened deportation of the little Cuban boy?

”How do you like…the chili?”

Therein lies the essence of New Hampshire, where a citizen’s sway is off the scales and the ratio of people to political clout is wildly out of proportion. With the Iowa caucuses out of the way and less than a week to go before New Hampshire’s all-important contest, this tiny state of 1.2 million-one- thirtieth the population of California and roughly the size of San Diego proper-has assumed its place at the center of U.S. politics.

No candidate since 1952 has won the White House without first winning his party’s primary in the Granite State–except in 1992, when next-door-neighbor Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts beat Bill Clinton. (”An aberration,” one local insisted, ”and everyone should just forget it.”)

It is here that working-class people have regularly humbled political aristocrats, creating a searing photo album of electoral gaffes: Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar…

Finally, an example of connective language that links the right kind of quote to the right kind of generality:

SEOUL–Han Mi Sook, a 37-year-old company worker in Seoul, has owned a Daewoo sedan for several years. But riding around town with ”Daewoo” on your hood has become a lot less prestigious since last August, when the entire industrial group was brought to its knees financially.

”It’s still running,” she said with a laugh. ”But it’s a bit noisy.”

The same might be said for the entire South Korean auto industry these days. Headlines blare daily every step and misstep of an intricate ownership dance that promises to reshape this once-proud South Korean industry for decades to come.

General Motors and Ford have already declared their interest in buying Daewoo Motor, a subsidiary of Daewoo Group, amid reports that Volkswagen…

RECOMMENDED READING:“Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina,” by David Hajdu (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A brilliantly reported and written description of where so-called “Sixties Music” comes from. Hajdu uses the intersecting lives of four icons (two still-remembered, two forgotten)to break down the way ’50s folk music evolved into “protest music” and then into “folk rock” and finally into modern “rock” music. Great as biography, great as a music book, great as a piece of social history. I read it in two days, then loaned it to a friend who also read it in two days.

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