Sir Harold Evans wouldn’t want to be responsible for editing any of the writing coming out of the White House.
Evans, an editor at large at Reuters and the former editor of The Sunday Times of London, has become something of an advocate for clear and precise language. Celebrating the publication of his new book about writing, “Do I Make Myself Clear,” at a breakfast in Manhattan hosted by Reuters on Wednesday, Evans spoke about the importance of writing clean sentences free of clichés and redundant words.
“After print was more and more overtaken by digital, I expected the language to be clearer,” Evans explained, when asked what prompted him to write a guide to writing. “Well, it wasn’t. People with great space let the words run on, whereas when it was in print, you had to write to fit an iron frame, so you were forced to be concise.”
The British-born Evans, in conversation with Columbia Journalism School dean Steve Coll, made a case for paring writing down to its core in order to convey meaning in a straightforward manner without superfluous words. Of course, a roomful of news editors and reporters (minus Evans’ wife, Tina Brown, who was on the West Coast) is a naturally sympathetic audience. Evans showed a slide show with passages from New Yorker writer Roger Angell to illustrate the power of brevity. He went on to lament the “appalling” English coming from Silicon Valley, the jargon of business (“apologies to the ceos in the room”), and the obtuse language of government.
As an example of that last point, he cited wordy legislation released by former President Barack Obama, which Evans said he edited down to a cool 1,000 words.
But speaking of presidents, the current occupant of the White House could use a bit of editorial help.
“The New York Times review said I should move into the White House as a czar for writing,” Evans said. “But that would be an impossible job. First of all, the president certainly wouldn’t take any notice. And I would be overwhelmed by failing to turn mush into something solid.”
On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump’s midnight tweet became a meme when he wrote “Despite the negative press covfefe”— a tweet that remained in Trump’s personal Twitter feed until it was taken down early Wednesday morning.
“I think he was trying to say coverage. I must say, I have a little sympathy for him on this because when I am writing a quick thing, I often make typographical errors. But I think he knows the meaning of the word ‘coverage.’ I don’t know the meaning of the word covfefeeeee,” Evans said, drawing out the erroneous word.
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