June 24, 2015's Weekly Slap:

“Beach Slapped” is what it is because from the moment I first came to the Oregon Coast, most every moment I lived here, and even my last hours here, it was always about the beach. That wasn’t always true of my life, and perhaps that’s been my problem.

Growing up in Colorado, I was a long way from the beach. I don’t care what anyone says, lounging next to a giant lake/ civic water supply is not the beach.

BartonGroverHowe.com:Where to keep up with humor writer Barton Grover Howe. Here, you'll find all of his Beach Slapped columns from The News-Times in Lincoln County, Oregon, excerpts from his latest books and the occasional random musing that would get him fired if he published it in a family newspaper.
A professional lack of Style
- October, 2005
A lot happens as I sit at my desk at the center of the Oregon coast news universe: namely, I dribble tomato sauce down my shirt from exploding hot pockets.

But occasionally actual news happens, and this is what all journalists live for. Political corruption, a rescue at sea, a vandalized goat; this is life in the exciting world of Lincoln County journalism.

Every once in a while, however, you have to suck it up and do a story you don’t want to do. You have to stare your demons in the face, and do the job you were trained to do. No matter the cost to your soul, you must fight evil itself.

I call it the AP Stylebook.

The AP Stylebook is the rulebook by which journalists are supposed to live. Many of them are ethical rules, such as it is not OK to hit a raccoon with your SUV on 101 just so you can take a picture of road-kill. (It is OK – and by that I mean legal - in many states to take it home and eat it. Seriously.)

Others, however, are of a more pedantic nature and involve things like grammar, spelling and attribution. We tri very hard to does these korrect like. It tells you everything from what titles to always capitalize, (“President of the United States” ) to what words to use (“over” is not a substitute for “more than”) and what the important cities are in Kansas (“Who cares?”)

This is where I have my second largest issue with the book. (Number one: It is still not OK – again, by that I mean legal - to hit Geraldo Rivera with an SUV.) The AP Stylebook expects you to follow all the rules without exception, 

My fiancée and I have had discussions about this. As an editor, she thinks I should follow the rules. As a free-spirited writer, I think she and other editors like her are soul-sucking demons set on destroying all creativity in writing.

We don’t have these discussions very often.

I tell you all this so you’ll understand my frame of mind when I was asked to attend the Lewis & Clark Exploration Chowder Cook-off in Lincoln City a few weeks back. I knew I was in for a nightmare.

It wasn’t the clam chowder; I like clam chowder and so did everybody there. Save for the clams, of course. They hated it, filed a claim with PETA, and began protesting. Later, violence ensued and the Paris suburbs are still burning following the ensuing clam riot. (“Clam Riot:” this would be an excellent name for a fishing boat.)

No, my problem was along with inviting all kinds of chowder cooks, they also gave free admission to everyone with the surnames, “Lewis” or “Clark.” I looked it up: there are some 1.286 million people with these names – and all of them are tied to Kevin Bacon. I knew I had a problem.

For the Current Rendition of the AP (CRAP) Stylebook says to refer to everyone in a news article by their last names. So, “John Clark” becomes ‘Clark,” “Edna Lewis” becomes “Lewis” and “Paris Hilton” becomes even more overexposed and annoying. This is a problem at an event where dozens of people have the same name:

“Clark loves to come out to social events like these, for it gives her a chance to wear her finest dress.”

“’Even with my big hairy arms, I couldn’t lift some of the chowder bowls,’ Clark said.”

Certainly you can see two problems here:

  1. We have no idea which Clark is speaking
  2. Miss Clark hates dresses – she’s more a pantsuit person. And later on she’ll try to choke me death with her big, hairy arms..

You can understand why I hate this kind of story. Now, a reasonable person would simply say if you had a big enough SUV no one would ever know you ran over Geraldo Rivera. They might also suggest using courtesy titles, which sounds good - until you realize you’d have to kill all your sources after interviewing them.

Because according to the AP Stylebook for the most part the only time journalists should use courtesy titles is when someone has died, which gives you, “Mr. Clark,” “Mrs. Williams” and “Mr. Michael Jackson’s career.” The big exception to this is the New York Times, which insists on giving everyone a courtesy title.

In theory this works well; everyone deserves a little respect. Until you’re reading the Sunday Times over breakfast, come to “Mrs. Brittany Spears,” and you choke so hard you blow coffee and scone chunks out your nose.

This is why when there are confusing names in stories I now change them to something easier for the reader to understand. Editors as you might imagine hate this. At least I assume they do; my fiancée hasn’t spoken to me since Monday. But I think it helps you, the reader, understand things better and now you understand last week’s story, “Brad Pitt hopes to become next mayor of Newport.”

The truth – of course – is that it’s “Richard Nixon.”