Friday, January 28, 2005

Farewell to Tim Cooper

It is with a heavy heart that I write this entry. Tim Cooper, the art director for Overdrive Magazine died this morning. Tim was one of those rare art directors that could also write copy, headlines, cut lines and actually read the writer's story before he designed it. He was not only a creative, hard worker, he was a good friend as well.
When I could twist his arm and convince him to speak to my class, he'd captivate the students with his dry as dust wit and sharp humor. There was a line waiting to speak to him when class was over. I wish you had had a chance to meet him. Getting inside of Tim's brain, even for a little bit of time, would change how you ever looked at a magazine cover, table of contents or layout of a story. He had the "eye" for design that can't be taught.

Tim, a non-smoker, fought a fierce battle against an aggressive form of lung cancer. He leaves a wife and young son behind. .

The OpinYun Class

Carolyn's OpinYun class! Thanks to Christine for this pic. Read her blog to find out how she feels about Sponge Bush Squarepants!
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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Thought everyone would get a big kick out of this! Just go here for all your fave Napoleon Dynamite sayings! Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The fur flies!

Local reader responds to Andy Duncan's letter to the editor. Duck, Andy, Duck!
(Somehow, me thinks this is just the beginning.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Safire leaves us some advice

It figures. The semester I teach opinion writing, my two favorite opinion writers write their swan song. First, Dave Barry, the laugh out loud, bodily function humor and twisted guy view on all things Miami, leaves and now Safire. Here are his final words and it's like he wrote them for this class.
I agree with all of the points. Please read before class and be prepared to discuss.

How to Read a ColumnBy WILLIAM SAFIRE Published: January 24, 2005

At last I am at liberty to vouchsafe to you the dozen rules in reading a political column.
1. Beware the pundit's device of using a quotation from a liberal opposition figure to make a conservative case, and vice versa. Righties love to quote John F. Kennedy on life's unfairness; lefties love to quote Ronald Reagan. Don't fall for gilding by association.
2. Never look for the story in the lede. Reporters are required to put what's happened up top, but the practiced pundit places a nugget of news, even a startling insight, halfway down the column, directed at the politiscenti. When pressed for time, the savvy reader starts there.
3. Do not be taken in by "insiderisms." Fledgling columnists, eager to impress readers with their grasp of journalistic jargon, are drawn to such arcane spellings as "lede." Where they lede, do not follow.
4. When infuriated by an outrageous column, do not be suckered into responding with an abusive e-mail. Pundits so targeted thumb through these red-faced electronic missives with delight, saying "Hah! Got to 'em."
5. Don't fall for the "snapper" device. To give an aimless harangue the illusion of shapeliness, some of us begin (forget "lede") with a historical allusion or revealing anecdote, then wander around for 600 words before concluding by harking back to an event or quotation in the opening graph. This stylistic circularity gives the reader a snappy sense of completion when the pundit has not figured out his argument's conclusion.
6. Be wary of admissions of minor error. One vituperator wrote recently that the Constitution's requirement for a president to be "natural born" would have barred Alexander Hamilton. Nitpickers pointed out that the Founders exempted themselves. And there were 16, not 20, second inaugural speeches. In piously making these corrections before departing, the pundit gets credit for accuracy while getting away with misjudgments too whopping to admit.
(Note: you are now halfway down the column. Start here.)
7. Watch for repayment of favors. Stewart Alsop jocularly advised a novice columnist: "Never compromise your journalistic integrity - except for a revealing anecdote." Example: a Nixon speechwriter told columnists that the president, at Camp David, boasted "I just shot 120," to which Henry Kissinger said brightly "Your golf game is improving, Mr. President," causing Nixon to growl "I was bowling, Henry." After columnists gobbled that up, the manipulative writer collected in the coin of friendlier treatment.
8. Cast aside any column about two subjects. It means the pundit chickened out on the hard decision about what to write about that day. When the two-topic writer strains to tie together chalk and cheese, turn instead to a pudding with a theme. (Three subjects, however, can give an essay the stability of an oaken barstool. Two's a crowd, but three's a gestalt.)
9. Cherchez la source. Ingest no column (or opinionated reporting labeled "analysis") without asking: Cui bono? And whenever you see the word "respected" in front of a name, narrow your eyes. You have never read "According to the disrespected (whomever)."
10. Resist swaydo-intellectual writing. Only the hifalutin trap themselves into "whomever" and only the tort bar uses the Latin for "who benefits?" Columnists who show off should surely shove off. (And avoid all asinine alliteration.)
11. Do not be suckered by the unexpected. Pundits sometimes slip a knuckleball into their series of curveballs: for variety's sake, they turn on comrades in ideological arms, inducing apostasy-admirers to gush "Ooh, that's so unpredictable." Such pushmi-pullyu advocacy is permissible for Clintonian liberals or libertarian conservatives but is too often the mark of the too-cute contrarian.
12. Scorn personal exchanges between columnists. Observers presuming to be participants in debate remove the reader from the reality of controversy; theirs is merely a photo of a painting of a statue, or a towel-throwing contest between fight managers. Insist on columns taking on only the truly powerful, and then only kicking 'em when they're up.
In bidding Catullus's ave atque vale to readers of this progenitor of all op-ed pages (see rule 10), is it fair for one who has enjoyed its freedom for three decades to spill its secrets? Of course it's unfair to reveal the Code. But punditry is as vibrant as political life itself, and as J.F.K. said, "life is unfair." (Rules 1 and 5.)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Check out Christine and Nick on the CW

Christine Green's piece about healthy snacks in UA vending machines caught the attention of the powers that be. Check out the comment section on her piece.
Nick's piece, ought to stir it up. Way to go!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Andy Duncan's letter to editor

"In the end, the best thing a writer can do for his society is to write as well as he can." (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

If you click on the title, you'll be linked to Andy Duncan's Letter to the Editor. If you'd like to email Andy,

I hope ya'll enjoyed Bill Maxwell last night. I appreciate your particpation and questions. His passion and convictions were very inspiring. I'm going to ask him if I can share his email address with you. Otherwise, you can reach him in care of the T-news. (at the end of his column)

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Becky gets published!

John Osborne: "Asking a writer what he thinks about criticism is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs."

Becky, self-described as the "ancient one" published her opinion piece in the CW. Congratulations Becky! The hard part is to accept the comments, good, bad and ugly as they may be. I don't particularly care for the anonymous feedback section at the end of the column. I'm from the old school where you sign your name to a letter to the editor. When an essay I wrote ran on MSN a few years ago, they had a similar format. I was obsessed with reading the instant replies until finally, I couldn't take it anymore. They discontinued that format shortly after my piece ran. You don't see it too often anymore and it lends itself to all kinds of extreme comments. That said, any feedback is better than no feedback.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Welcome to the deep south

"A place is yours when you know where all the roads go." Stephen King

Our guest speaker this week, Bill Maxwell, writes about his first impressions of the "deep south" in his column today. It's always interesting to view your town from an outsider's perspective. Over time, the quirks you observe at first glance, become part of the scenery. Like Maxwell, I came from a place I thought was "southern" but soon found out that Texas is outside the magic circle. In fact, while Tuscaloosans consider Texas a "western"
state; it's also considered a state-of-mind. I agree with that assessment and with some of Maxwell's observations.

Like him, I'd never seen so many churches, confederate flags or pick-up trucks when I first moved here 18 years ago. I had never met a woman who killed a deer, science teachers who don't believe in evolution and parents who censored their children's literature. I'd also never had a waitress call me hon or a teenager call me "ma'am." Over the years, I've come to cherish the "deep southness" of Tuscaloosa, choosing to celebrate the characteristics I love and discarding those I despise.

My motto, cross-stitched and hanging above my desk, says: Bloom where you are planted. As the daughter of a career military officer, I've been planted and uprooted more times than I can count. Tuscaloosa is where I've put down my roots, birthed my daughters and grown as a woman, writer, mother and teacher. My daughters say yes ma'am, go deer hunting and have southern accents strong enough to melt butter. But I don't censor their literature and have never allowed them to wear a Confederate flag t-shirt. They are "from here," something I've never been able to claim. Never being from anywhere in particular, I cherish the heritage, the hometown, the deep southness of where they are from.
Ideas, spirit, fun, intellect and wisdom can be found where ever you plant yourself. If you look hard enough, search long enough, you can make any place--home.

Please read this column and come to class on Thursday with questions and comments for Bill Maxwell.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Everything from Dave Barry to Ann Coulter

"My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip." (Elmore Leonard)

I have a feeling this is going to be a high achieving, high energy class. The team blog is not without a few glitches. I still don't have Joseph up and for some reason Emily and Buddy are up but not showing a blog and Amanda got "rejected." Justin figured out how to post his photo on "profile" and offered technical assistance to me. I'd really like you to post your pics. Christine has hers up too. It helps me match names with faces and adds interest to the site.
I enjoyed the variety of columnists you reviewed and hope someone gets a response from their email to the writer. As soon as you do, post here and win a prize. (I know, I know, how third grade is that!)
Becky showed a lot of guts by reading her piece aloud. She also sent it to the CW so we'll see how that goes. I've had a blast reading your CW pieces. The topics swing all over the place. Emily did a nice job with the pretty parking deck story. I'm riding by today to check it out. Cell phone misery is one of my pet peeves so I'm partial to any rant against the utter arrogance of cell phone users.
Let me know how your "rants" are going. Attack with energy, passion and of course, facts. Look for the unusual angle. If you are not sure about your topic, post on your blog and ask everyone for help.
Have a good weekend!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Auburn spell check

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Monday, January 10, 2005

New Tuscaloosa News columnist debuts

Bill Maxwell wrote his debut column in today's Tuscaloosa News. I think he brings a lot to the mix at the T-News and hope he accepts my invitation to speak to this class. You can find his article on and I'm trying to figure out how to hyper-link it. I've vowed not to use the IT department at Randall or really call in the experts, my 14 year-old daughter and her friends, all who have the whole blogging thing down pat.

So far, more than half of you are already up and running. So far so good! I'm revising the schedule to include a "blog" grade. If you are reading this, you are already ahead of the curve.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Opinion writing tips from USA Today

"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork."-- Peter De Vries

I found these opinion writing tips on a USA Today website for writers.

Writing the USA TODAY way:
Find out the length and write to the length.
Focus on one major theme.
Be selective. Omit unnecessary words. Use an economy of words with a wealth of information.
Provide only the background that is necessary.
Use specifics, not generalizations.
Use everyday language. Talk to the reader without flowery language or technical jargon.
Use strong verbs to tell a story. Verbs are the most forceful parts of speech.
Use grammar to propel a story. Be selective with the quotes used. Condense them when possible.
Make the most important points first.
Rewrite and edit ruthlessly. Use brevity and clarity.
Writing Checklist:
___ Does the story focus on one major theme? What is it? ___ Are the quotes selective? Could some be condensed?___ Are there institutional titles or attributions that could be eliminated? ___ Where is the context? Is there enough or too much? ___ Are specifics used in describing things? ___ Are everyday language and strong verbs used? ___ Does the grammar propel the story?
Good Op-Ed Articles:
Tell the reader why they should read it. Answer "why now?" and "so what?"questions in the first part of the article.
Take the understanding of the issue to the next step. Do not simply repeat information that has already been presented in the newspaper, build on that information to make an interesting and insightful point that the reader has not reached on their own.
Make a point. Both sides can be expressed but a good piece helps a reader reach a conclusion.Do the research. Good opinion writing requires a lot of research and good examples, even quotes to back up the opinion. It is not off the top of your head writing.
Follow an outline. Easy to follow opinion writing has a clear and identifiable structure that states the problem and builds through example to the author's opinion. Unstructured writing is difficult for readers to follow.
Are clear and concise. Adjectives and flourishes should be avoided as they only clutter the message. Impress readers with your ability to say something clearly, not with your frequent use of a thesaurus.
Do not ignore the other side of the issue. Some of the most powerful opinion writing take son the arguments of the other side and knocks it down.
Tell a story (if appropriate.) Good storytelling draws readers into and issue. But too much story and few facts do not make a point. Stories at the beginning of a piece should quickly lead to the point.
Defy conventional wisdom. Some of the most interesting opinion writing takes on commonly held beliefs and shows them to be wrong.

Friday, January 07, 2005

First class

"Start out like you can hold out."

My first class was last night in Room 338. Sixteen students gathered around the conference table to listen to the pearls of wisdom from me, the teach. Oops, I forgot to tell them that they can not, under any circumstances call me Dr. Mason, since of course, I didn't go to medical school.
I gave my first day of class speech where I tell them all about me and my opinion writing career. I started off with the Rush Limbaugh 15 minutes of fame story, covered column writing for the T-News and worked my way to the present although I failed to mention some of the recent dopey women's mags where I've published essays about my teenagers. Enough about me though.

The students seem to be very motivated and intelligent. There's the usual law school bound and newspaper/sports writing bound along with English and Spanish double majors.
The first assignment, a 500 word CW piece of their choice is due via email before next week. This is the piece I tear up, rip to shreds, open a vein and let it bleed. Not really. But it's heavily edited which will take a great deal of time and cause a great deal of angst, possible tears and the occasional, who does she think she is? That's okay. I wish I could do it for every piece but it's not possible with my schedule.

I'm excited about reading their first assignments. It's pure pleasure to pour a cup of coffee and read through a stack of opinions. I love to get into the mind of 21 year-olds, find out what they are thinking and what they face in their life. It's not that much different from when I was 21 although I must admit, the music is better and the toys are cooler.

I'm also pleased to have an older student this semester. Returning students, married students, student parents, diverse students and students outside the JN program always bring a lot to the table. They have different life experiences that add to the mix.

This blog experiment is complicated. I want to have a place to showcase the students' work and an opportunity for them to comment on each other's work. This will automatically raise the level of their writing by the power of peer pressure. And it will be an interesting experiment in emerging media and education application. Patrick Beeson, an intern at Randall Publishing has offered tech support and plans to follow the progress of this blog. I plan to write a freelance piece about the experience.
So far, the stumbling blocks are:
No Mac support ( is aware of it and working to fix the problem)
Difficulty in setting up sidebars.
Have not followed the tutorial to hyper-link.
Other than that, things are perking along.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Everyone has one

"Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." --John F. Kennedy

Welcome to the University of Alabama's JN 412 Opinion Writing class. Yes. This is a blog. No. I've never had a blog before. Yes. You will have to post your work on this group blog. If I can do it, so can you.
The good news is that you can show case your work, comment on your classmates' work, comment on my comments, comment on your life, loves, pets and why you hate or love W, Alabama football or Taco Casa.

I am the group administrator and will take down anything that I determine: hateful, pornographic, slanderous or an expose on Alabama football program violations. Oh, and anything that begins with a Webster definition or in anyway whines about the lack of parking on campus.

In this class you will read everything from commentary written by award-winning syndicated columnists to sarcastic, outrageous, unknown bloggers. I abhor political correctness and have been known to fall over laughing while reading David Sedaris describe a stopped-up toilet in a guest bathroom. Dave Barry makes me laugh out loud and Maureen Dowd can cause me to snap a pencil in half. William Rasberry makes sense, William Safire enrages and enlightens and Nicholas Kristof sets my last nerve on edge. You will read and comment on some of the best, worst and cutting edge contemporary opinion writers. And a few dead ones.

I invite you into the world of opinion writing where your words have the power to influence others, cause change, shift paradigms, build bridges or completely embarrass you, your mother, your ex-girlfriend or your teacher.
Opinion writing is not for the fearful, the self-conscious or the thin-skinned. If you want privacy; buy a diary.