KENT WARD

Some names are game-changers

Posted March 09, 2012, at 1:38 p.m.
Kent Ward
Kent Ward

Journalism 101 teaches two basic principles of news gathering. One is that a solid news story provides readers with the who, what, when, where and why of the matter. I like to think that the late poet Rudyard Kipling alluded to the tenet when he wrote, “I keep six honest serving men/(They taught me all I knew);/Their names are What and Why and When/And How and Where and Who.”

The second principle is that names make news. The more names, the more readers. The more readers, the more pleased the publisher. The more pleased the publisher, the happier everyone involved in the news-gathering operation, and so on.

Generally speaking, the lots-of-names approach is a sound one that has stood the test of time, but there are exceptions. In his book, “A Bus of My Own,” Jim Lehrer, longtime host of the Public Broadcasting System News Hour before his retirement a while back, tells a story about his early newspapering days with the Dallas Times Herald.

The paper’s managing editor, concerned that not enough names were finding their way into the Times Herald news columns, wrote a memo to the staff. “Names make news. Names are news. Put them in your story. No story should be without them. Lots of them,” was his message to reporters.

Within minutes of the circulation of the memo, an irreverent reporter had posted a bogus news story on the bulletin board that presumably met the Times Herald criteria. The item, datelined Dallas, began this way:

“More than 75,000 people came to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas Saturday to watch Southern Methodist University play Texas Christian University.

“They were: Joseph Caldwell, Louise P. Caldwell, Robert Compton, Lee Cullum, Billy Bob Dunn, Bob Finley, Sara Finley, Larry Grove, Stanley Marcus, Robert Miller, Shirley Miller, Bobby Joe Ray …”

The message seemed to be that names may well make the news, but too many of them in one dose might easily drive most any reader nuts.

Perhaps the name making the most news in these parts this week was that of Angus King, who — merely by announcing that he would seek to replace Olympia Snowe as United States senator from Maine — put fear into the hearts of other politicians coveting the seat.

A man with healthy favorability ratings who served two terms as an independent Maine governor, King caused potential rivals to have second thoughts about going after Snowe’s job. One of the Big Dawgs of Maine politics had stepped off the porch to lead the pack howling and yipping its way to November and suddenly discretion had become the better part of valor for others who decided they had better things to do.

Chief among the names on this list was that of Chellie Pingree, Democratic representative to Congress from the 1st District. Snowe had barely made her shocking announcement that she would not seek re-election when Pingree let it be known that she had taken out papers to get her name on the June primary ballot to replace the veteran senator.

Pingree’s daughter, Hannah, of North Haven — a former Democratic speaker of the Maine House of Representatives — subsequently indicated she was thinking of becoming a candidate to replace her mother in Congress. The game of musical chairs seemed on, with many players intent on participating.

The possibility of a budding leftward-leaning mother-daughter congressional dynasty, should all of the dominoes fall into their proper slots, caused progressives to fairly swoon with delight. But as often occurs with grand plans, a funny thing happened on the way to the election.

By Wednesday, just two days after King had announced his candidacy for Snowe’s Senate seat, what had seemed to Pingree The Elder like a swell idea at the time now seemed much less so. Forget the Senate candidacy thing, she announced — she had decided to seek re-election to her 1st District congressional seat.

“There is much at stake in this election, and although the prospect of running for and possibly serving in the United States Senate was very exciting, in the end I concluded that I will best serve the people by running for re-election to the House,” read Pingree’s front-page explanation in the Thursday morning newspaper.

Pingree’s capitulation, by any other name, was probably a smart move. In politics, as in the game of poker, to live to fight another day you have to — as the old song suggests — “know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em.”

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His e-mail address is maineolddawg@gmail.com.

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