2019 Reprise, best editorial: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” It must be so, it was in the New York Sun

December 23, 2019

“Papa says, ‘If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.'”

Do we, you and I in 2019, stand as witnesses to the end of newspapers in America?  In recent years we’ve seen body blows to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the San Diego Union, and The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and far too many others. Who anymore remembers the Washington Star, or the wonderfully-named San Antonio Light, or the Dallas Times-Herald? Some experiments might work. The Salt Lake Tribune turned non-profit.

Those are just the dailies. Smaller papers, especially weeklies, are all but wholly disappeared.

It’s painful to compare where Americans got their news, and what they thought about it, during the Watergate crises leading to the almost-impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon, and today’s multiple crises leading to the impeachment of Donald Trump, and how it is yet to be resolved.

It’s been a grand history. Newspapering gave us great leaders like Benjamin Franklin. Newspapering gave us wars, like the Spanish-American War. Newspapering gave us Charlie Brown, Ann Landers, the Yellow Kid, Jim Murray, Red Smith, Thomas Nast (and Santa Claus), the Federalist Papers, Watergate, Herblock, news of Vietnam and Pearl Harbor, Neil Armstrong on the Moon, the Pentagon Papers, and coupons to save money on laundry soap.

It’s been a curious history, too. An 1897 editorial vouching for Santa Claus rates as the most popular editorial of all time, according to the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  That’s 122 years ago, and that’s quite some staying power.

Francis Pharcellus Church, probably about 1860

The man who saved Christmas, at least for Virginia O’Hanlon, Francis Pharcellus Church, probably about 1860 – Wikipedia image

In autumn, 1897, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon of 115 West 95th Street in New York, wrote to the New York Sun with this simple question:

“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

In the age of Yellow Journalism, the fiercely competitive Sun‘s editors turned the letter to Francis Pharcellus. He responded to little Virginia on September 21, 1897:

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Church’s brother, William Conant Church, owned and published the newspaper. Both had followed their father into the news business. They co-founded The Army-Navy Journal in 1863, and went on to a series of journalistic collaborations. Francis was 58 years old when he answered Virginia’s letter. (He died at age 67, in 1906.)

The New York Sun held down the conservative corner in New York journalism at the time, versus the New York Times and the New York Herald-Tribune. But it also had an interesting history, to a blogger intrigued by hoaxes. In 1835 the paper published a series of six newspaper stories falsely attributed to Sir John Herschel, a well-known astronomer, claiming to describe a civilization on the Moon — the Great Moon Hoax. The discovery was credited to a new, very powerful telescope.

In 1844 the paper published a hoax written by Edgar Allen Poe, the Balloon Hoax. Under a pseudonym, Poe wrote that a gas balloon had crossed the Atlantic in three days.

The Sun also featured outstanding reporting. A 1947 and 1948 series about crime on the docks of New York City won a Pulitzer Prize for writer Malcolm Johnson. That series inspired Elia Kazan’s 1954 movie On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb.

Despite the occasional hoax, people trusted newspapers to get the basic facts right, most of the time.

The New York Sun ceased publication in 1950.

For all of its history, the Sun and the Churches are most remembered for that defense of belief in Santa Claus.

Virginia O'Hanlon, about the age of 8

Virginia O’Hanlon, about the age of 8, when she wrote to The New York Sun’s editors to inquire about the veracity of the Santa Claus story.

Virginia O’Hanlon grew up, graduated from Hunter College, got a masters at Columbia, and earned a Ph.D. from Fordham Univeresity. She taught in the New York City Public School system, from which she retired in 1959. She died in 1971.

Birth of tradition

Columbia University was Church’s alma mater, as well as O’Hanlon’s. Her letter and his response get a reading each year at the Yule Log Ceremony at Columbia College, along with the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Animated, live-acting, and other television productions have been mounted in 1974, 1991, and 2009.

Is there a Santa Claus? Did Church write a credible defense? The text of the letter and answer, below the fold.

More:  

Read the rest of this entry »


Pixar’s 22 rules for a good story (how do they fit your organization?)

July 30, 2012

Pixar logo, with flourishes

From The Pixar Touch, a set of rules for writing a good story to translate to the screen.

Good rules to keep in mind for composition of stories in English, no?  Good rules of writing to keep in mind for any essay writing.

Where else do these rules apply?

Pixar story rules (one version)

Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 03:39PM

Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Presumably she’ll have more to come. Also, watch for her personal side project, a science-fiction short called Horizon, to come to a festival near you.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Farnam Street, who adds:

Still curious?Watch as Kurt Vonnegut explains the different shapes that stories can take.

Where else can you use this?

Consider the project you’ve got to lead, with one person from each department in your company.  What is your vision (the hackneyed but apt word) for how the project ends up?  Storyboard it — and keep in mind these 22 rules.  What’s the essence of your view of the project?  Can you tell it in a minute?  Get the story down to 30 seconds.  What are the stakes, if you get this project done well?  What are the stakes if you fail?   Everybody on the team knows the stakes?  Is your plan on paper?  Have you revised it?

More:


PowerPoint templates for students

June 18, 2007

I really don’t like assignments to “do a PowerPoint presentation” for kids who are not expert at all on their subjects — there is too much room for too much unintentional mischief when people who know little about a topic are to use a tool designed for people who know too much about a topic.

Among other things, kids who have never had to do a five-page report, nor an outline of a report, do not have the experience to stick to five bullets of less than five words per slide. And don’t get me going on “fireworks” animation of letters to explain things like the death of Medgar Evers, or the evils of child labor.

But if you want some ideas, the Paducah, Kentucky, school system offers some templates for student reports, and a few presentations teachers could use as foundations, here at “Connecting Teachers and Students.” There is advice, too. *

Use these as starting points, please. If you can’t improve on them, you’re not trying (no offense, Paducah — I hope).

A good exercise for you would be to spend an hour reading suggestions from Presentation Zen, and then edit a couple of those presentations from Paducah to make them more, um, zen reflective.

Remember, “template” is just a part of “contemplate.”

(I hope I don’t regret having pointed out that Paducah site to you.)

Update, November 24, 2007: Take a look at the video included in this post to see an effective use of a presentation tool like PowerPoint — though this one was done with Apple’s Keynote. Check the links in the post, too.
Update March 8, 2008:  Paducah’s school district archived the PowerPoint stuff.  I have changed the links above to link to the archive sites.  I replaced “www” with “old” in the URL.

%d bloggers like this: