I'd like to send a shout out to Bette Durnford, wherever you may be. Mrs. Durnford, a black-haired Southern dynamo transplanted to the rural splendor of Wisconsin, was my teacher for several years in elementary school. Although I think by the time I knew her she had been in the Midwest for many years, she still had a thick Deep South accent, twangy and loaded with all kinds of exotic sayings and homilies, or exotic to me at least. She had a big personality, which I find good in a teacher, which expressed itself grandly in hugs and praise and enthusiasm, or whip-crackin' all-business if someone was screwing up.

Mrs. Durnford had a particular passion, and that was journalism, and this she passed on to me. I have so many times referred back to the basic things she spoke about over all these years, and her lessons had a far greater impact that went past my writing. She got me to think more deeply about words, and the structure and placement of them, and the impact the tiniest changes could have upon a reader, and the tremendous power of the media. I think she saw something in me, a potential, that needed shaping and structure, a home to place all the words I had in me. How grateful I am now for her guidance and interest shown.

A journalism class is like a entry-level tutorial on effective and efficient communication, which goes past the written word. First paragraph, just the facts, ma'am: Marianne, a blogger and laundress, spent $202.98 at the TJ Maxx in Woodinville, Washington, on Friday, October 24th at approximately 3PM Pacific Time. She purchased six items at the store, and was assisted at checkout by Stacey. Marianne went to the TJ Maxx in search of discounted yet high-quality clothing items, and saved approximately $130.25 over full retail price. She paid for the items with a VISA card, which was processed and charged with no incident. So, Lesson One: if you have something to say, say it, give the pertinent details: tell who, what, when, why, and how. Don't waste anyone's time -- get to it right away, and give people the basics of the situation and let them decide if that is enough or they want to dig further. How great is that? No hemming or hawing or shuffling of the feet. TWO HUNDRED BUCKS??? is answered cleanly there.

Mrs. Durnford stressed the apparently-long-gone idea that a good journalist should be completely unbiased and always aware of avoiding emotion or judgment in a piece of reporting, respecting people enough to make their own conclusions. "Fair and balanced" today, from any direction, is rare. The media is now too vast and powerful to be untainted by agendas. Reporting turns into The Persuasive Essay/Editorial. Example: Marianne, in choosing to shop at a discount store, has shown remarkable ingenuity and strength of character. Eschewing the glamour and glitz of Nordstrom, she wades through countless fail garments and oddities to clothe her family in an exquisitely-perfect mix of fashion and thrift. She is perhaps the example to lead this nation out of its recession and into a healthy and balanced economy. VIVA! Someone is going to fall for that. Lesson Two: Be aware of the power your words have to change the way people think, and think about what outcome you wish to make happen, or if you want that responsibility at all.

The other subject that got Mrs. Durnford all fired up was sports, and sports journalism just got her giddy. She taught me that in this sort of writing, while you still had to deliver the factual content, you could also range out and be far more expressive. She stressed how important it was in sports writing to be able to make the reader feel the action; to describe it in language that would make you feel like you were there. Example: Marianne eyed the squat, surly woman to her right with a steely glare. The Guess jeans, hanging in the middle of a long blue line of pants, were practically leaping into her shiny silver cart. But the woman, hunkered down directly in front of the Guess jeans like a midget mule, would not budge. Time was ticking; Marianne had to soon zoom down the streets of Woodinville to liberate her daughter from school; pressure was building. As her watch clicked 3PM, Marianne boldly moved her cart forward, and in an authoritative-yet-attractive voice, spoke: "Excuse me, please!" The jeans troll scowled, and waddled down the aisle. Marianne swooped down upon the jeans, and in a perfectly-aimed arc, threw the item into her still-moving cart. The store employees stood and cheered, confetti rained down upon the heads of the shoppers, and Marianne in triumph, strode confidently to check out. Lesson Three: You have the ability to take people out of wherever they are with your words, and place them somewhere else entirely. A ball field, a battle field, or a shopper show-down, all is possible with the right adjectives and action verbs.

So, again, I thank you, Mrs. Durnford. Your passion for well-written words was my good fortune. I never became Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite or even Perez Hilton for god's sake, but I heard what you said, and it stuck.