Two Succinct Stories Famous News Anchor Dan Rather Told Me Today at SXSW EDU

When he was a young man of 18 in 1949, Dan Rather was an oil field worker in Texas for a summer.  He was the only boy on the crew; the rest were men, he said.  For digging ditches and other hard labor, he got paid a good wage.  Payday was every Thursday, which was when the rest of his crew played poker.  His first paycheck came and to fit in, he joined the poker game.  But he wasn’t very good so he proceeded to lose his entire wages for the week in that game.  His rent was due so he had no other choice but to ask his father for help.  This experience taught him the value of not gambling and budgeting his money.

After he got married, he told his wife Jean that since he was the man of the house, he would be the one to manage the new couple’s money.  A couple of weeks went by, and the checkbook was a mess.  He had to admit that he wasn’t good at the task, and gratefully relinquished control to his wife, much to his relief.  She’s been in charge of every dime they’ve made ever since.  This taught him humility and trusting other people.

What We Can Learn from Dan’s Short Stories

img_20180307_155415283-11503478408.jpgIf you grew up hearing the news from Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings, you may still be able to imagine what their voices sound like.  Sitting in on a session at EDU, Rather was presenting an eponymous award with his grandson.  The winner was at a school in Dallas that had a project to teach financial literacy to schoolchildren.  This is what prompted the stories.  So yes, he told them to me, but also to a room of hundreds of others.  Hey, you can’t fault A Dude for a clever headline in a story referencing a journalist!

My point in mentioning what he said is that as a master in the storytelling arts, he was brief, clear and direct.  “Brevity is the soul of wit” is a phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that is often bandied about to tell writers to just shut up.  And for good reason.  No one likes a windbag, and in today’s world of twits and snappy chatters, longer prose is not well-received by many if not most people.  The word count of a  good blog post should fall somewhere in between too short for complete sentences and a chapter of a Russian novel.  A Dude tends to fall on that spectrum more towards the latter, despite good intentions, but I’m a work in progress.

As for clarity and directness, those are hallmarks of a seasoned professional reporter like Rather.  According to his Wikipedia profile though, he has tended toward longer-winded essays on Facebook more recently, and he has written books too.  But in his speaking style today and reporting style back in the da (as I recall) was to tell it like it is, without much if any embellishment.  That leaves the interpretation up to the listener, and removes or at least diminishes the distraction of who’s telling the tale.  I was not just taken by hearing his clear, deep baritone voice again, but also by the simplicity of his two stories.  He painted the pictures, and it was up to me to view them in my mind and to understand them.

I mean, who am I to keep rambling on when Dan Rather’s example is to get to the point?  Plus, we should all pull ourselves away from our phones and laptops and I-pads and be out riding our bikes, right?  Right!

In the end, it was a good reminder to get to the point without too many extra steps, words or obstacles.  Easier said than done.  But I think we’re makimg progress.  Just today I met a woman who said I should really be on Twitter so I could figure out which SWXW sessions to atend, including to RSVP to those secret pop-up performances, etc.  Using that platform requires one to get to the point quickly, so maybe I’ll try it out.

Soon I’ll be reducing this blog to a few times a week, if that, to try to make space and time for writing a book.  We’ll see how that goes.  But in future posts, while I may still have some that are longer, I hope to make things easier to read for our short-attention span world.

Sorry, but I’m just getting another like on WordPress, so I’ve got to run!

A neat piece of art I encountered on my bike ride home.  A huge gold-plated conch shell.


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