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Monday, November 27, 2006

Al Warren Brings Purple Pen to Pearly Gates
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A journalism legend has passed away -- Al Warren, whose last name lives on in Warren Communications News, publisher of Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Consumer Electronics Daily and Public Broadcasting Report, among others. While not the tallest man, he was a giant in the field of trade journalism. He joined Television Digest (as the company was originally known, named after the then-flagship publication) only months after its founding as a young reporter. There was this newfangled contraption called television, and Al Warren set about seeing how those crazy regulators in Washington might seek hegemony over the industry. Lots of publications wrote about television (including TV Guide, which briefly and disastrously owned Television Digest Inc.) but only Television Digest covered television policy. If memory serves, Al Warren bought the company from TV Guide (extremely impressive move for a reporter and employee), and oversaw its growth into the significant presence it is today.

I had the privilege of working on and off for AW, as we called him, for about a decade. I didn't say "pleasure," because while I very much enjoyed working for him, anyone who was on the receiving end of one of his broadsides would not soon forget the experience or describe it as pleasant. It was pleasurable to work in a newsroom that took quality seriously, and that emanated from the top -- AW. As both a reporter and an editor, I had double the opportunity to invoke his ire, and lived in fear of the memo slip in purple pen, AW's signature color. But either due to his mellowing or my slow but real absorption of his instructions, those memos dwindled over the years, and he actually said a kind word now and again when I got a scoop or won an award.

AW was very particular about style. Kiplinger had given the trade press the short sentence and ellipsis. AW went a step further, commissioning the creation of an extremely thick Warren style guide to emphasize brevity. (Remember, this was when newsletters were printed and hand-delivered; size mattered, if you will.) It was this guide that forbade the use of articles (longtime Comm Daily readers will recall we never used "a," "an" or "the"); banned the first names of members of Congress; created a standard for state abbreviations different than the AP style used almost everywhere else; and contained hundreds of other little trips and traps that would catch new reporters or interns and lead to an AW purple memo. But that style did set our copy apart.

Of course, I would argue what really set Warren newsletter copy apart was the quality of its editors and reporters, and in later years AW wasn't directly responsible for that; the task fell to his sons Dan and Paul, along with Managing Editor Mike Feazel. Myself excluded, they've hired some pretty good talent over the years. They've also been entrepreneurial, for example creating Washington Internet Daily. They recognized that Television Digest as a weekly was losing viability and created Consumer Electronics Daily from it, like Athena from Zeus' head. Kudos to AW for being willing to go along with the folding of his flagship newsletter. Paul also gave us Public Broadcasting Report, of which I will always think fondly from my time managing it; the story goes that AW let Paul create it so Paul could get out from under Tack Nail's thumb. (Sorry, can't tell any Tack stories, that requires a book.)

My sympathies extend to Dan and Paul at the loss of their father, and to their siblings and their mother Peggy, who I didn't know well but found exceptionally charming and entertaining. I'm also sorry that some of the current Comm Daily reporters didn't get to work with AW when he was more vibrant. But I do hope that space can be found in the Comm Daily newsroom for AW's massive dictionary, which had its own podium. To me, more than the purple pens, that dictionary symbolized AW's commitment to excellence in the craft of prose. I'd like to think a little bit of his commitment rubbed off on me.

UPDATE (12/1/06): The Washington Post ran a nice, lengthy obit on AW yesterday, worth a read. I particularly liked the bullish support of IP in the piece.

posted by Patrick Ross @ 6:07 PM | General

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