Who among us can change someone’s life with a couple thousand words written on a deadline? Who can look at the same event that maybe millions of others see but bring out that nugget that everyone else completely missed? A nugget of humanity that is essential to the true perspective of the story and vital to the roundness of the truth?
People often ask me what is the best preparation for persuasive legal writing. Is it a degree from a fancy law school? No. A job in a big law firm or a judicial clerkship? No. It’s right there in front of you in today’s paper.
These writers are sometimes called “deadline artists” and you’ll find their words in the opinion pages of contemporary newspapers every day and have done for a hundred years and more. These are the eternal wordsmiths whether the name is H.L. Mencken or Langston Hughes, Mark Twain or Damon Runyon, Will Rogers or Art Buchwald.
Or Jimmy Breslin.
If you haven’t read or read many of Breslin’s columns, you really owe it to yourself. A few suggestions–“A Death in Emergency Room One” and “It’s an Honor” on the JFK assassination, “Fear in Queens” about Son of Sam (a strange history), “A Part of a Cop’s Past Lies Dead” about the murder of John Lennon or “A Smile Gone, But Where?” on 9/11.
When you read these short stories masquerading as newspaper columns, remember the man wrote for immediate publication and under a deadline.
And also remember what he said of himself: “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”