Rule of Law gets a Kick in the Teeth

Honest, decent, hard-working, law-abiding members of the taxi industry slept outside of City Hall on a hunger strike in November, 2015. All calls to ask Toronto to maintain one consistent law for all vehicles for hire – Taxis, Uber, Lyft, whoever – fell upon deaf ears. Faith in Canada’s Rule of Law has been decimated for these guys.

On November 19, 2014, John Tory stated confidently, “Uber and Hailo are here to stay.”

Ironically, ride-hailing firm Hailo had left Toronto weeks earlier. A law-abiding entity, it could not compete, waved a white flag, and left. Tory was unaware of this fact.

Uber has been a different story. Toronto allowed it to break any by-law it chose for almost three years, giving Uber an unprecedented business advantage.

Alas, Uber has not lived up to John Tory’s expectations. In fact, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was forced by investors to step down after a horrendous six-month run of disasters. Female engineers at Uber reported on sexual harassment and discrimination; regulators discovered Uber is using “Greyball,” software designed the help it avoid the law; Uber is being sued by Google for allegedly stealing its self-driving car technology. Uber is overcharging passengers and underpaying drivers.

Uber’s gleeful lawlessness is proving to be its Achilles heel. This was obvious to anyone with common sense while Toronto was re-writing its vehicle for hire by-law for Uber last year and SHOULD have been immediately apparent to the politicians we pay to make our laws. It was not.

On June 21, in an article entitled “Uber can’t be fixed; it’s time for regulators to shut it down,” Benjamin Edelman wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “The company’s cultural dysfunction, it seems to me, stems from the very nature of the company’s competitive advantage: Uber’s business model is predicated on lawbreaking. And having grown through intentional illegality, Uber can’t easily pivot toward following the rules.”

“Having built a corporate culture that celebrates breaking the law, it is surely no accident that Uber then faced scandal after scandal. How is an Uber manager to know which laws should be followed and which ignored?” Edelman asks.

In Toronto, the cost of the short-sighted decision to reward law-breakers has been brutal: it has caused a true crisis of faith for immigrants who came here honestly and work tirelessly. I doubt the damage done to their concept of Canada’s Rule of Law will ever be undone.

“I left home to get AWAY from this kind of corruption!” I have heard from cabbies from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Egypt. “And here it is again!”

Hans Wienhold, a taxi driver and blogger puts it this way: “Given that the taxi industry is disproportionately populated by recent immigrants…what message does this send to the new waves of immigrants and refugees looking to build a secure life for themselves?

“I’ll tell you what message it sends… ‘Do not work hard and invest your life and savings for the long term, because you now live in a regime where everything can be taken away from you by a simple vote at a city hall.’”

Wienhold also made a sad observation on the fact that all of the most expensive elements of a secure taxi industry were never about safety at all.

“Now we see clearly that none of these things ever had anything to do with safety; they were just power grabs and cash grabs. No one will ever buy the politicians’ BS again.”

Recently, we have seen more drivers ignoring the law, refusing short fares, or requiring a minimum fare; basically rejecting the City’s authority to set fares and rules.

Because, what law?

John Tory and Toronto Council should have seen this coming. They did not.

As this week’s Time Magazine cover says, “Uber fail.”

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Cream of Asparagus Soup starring Ontario Asparagus

This cooking video is actually at least a four-in-one deal:

  1. How to make luscious, delicious Cream of Asparagus soup using fresh Ontario Asparagus.
  2. How to make a smooth, buttery roux to thicken your soup (a good skill to have for any number of recipes).
  3. How to avoid painful burns – skip the standard blender and use a stick blender!
  4. How to enjoy creamy soups in the middle of winter, that taste like you made them today.

Click here to view the video. 

Made and posted with love, by Rita Smith

A real dog-and-pony show…

Carefully organized perennial beds, fences with wide gaps, horses and….Leia. What could go wrong?

Forest, Leia and I set out for a perennials farm yesterday to load up on new plants.

The place is lovely, and the owners so nice. Clearly, they are city-folk living a Green Acres retirement as the quaint wooden sign on their front lawn reads, “Living the Dream!”

“You can let your dogs out, if you want,” the fellow told me brightly.

“Really? Are you sure?” I looked around at the neat perennials beds and potted plants. “I wouldn’t want them to upset anything.”

“Sure! No problem! As long as they are friendly, we welcome dogs!” he offered magnanimously.

“REALLY? Are you REALLY sure?” I asked again, dubiously.

I didn’t see any good coming out of this. But the man and his wife were so generous and welcoming, I ignored my better judgement and let the dogs out of the car.

Immediately, they bolted for the fence line where there stood – two large red horses.

“Oh, except we hope they won’t bother the horses,” he added, a little anxiously and a lot too late. Leia had already bound through the wide gaps in the wooden fence and she and Forest were both barking their fool heads off at these huge new “dogs.”

“FOREST! LEIA! COME HERE!” I bellowed in my loudest dog-calling voice. Amazingly, Forest stopped before he reached the fence and came back. Leia was long gone.

“I’m just afraid the horse might kick them,” the man offered helpfully.

“Yeah, that would be a real problem,” I replied morosely, already imagining how much THIS vet bill was going to be, after Leia got sent sailing through the air by one swift kick.

I deposited Forest back in the safety of the car before I returned to the fence line to try and retrieve Leia.

After their exciting equine adventure, Forest and Leia were deposited back into the safety of car.

Leia was in her glory, joyfully cavorting and gamboling directly under the horse’s feet. In fact, she was running perfect “Figure 8s:” around the front hooves; under the horse’s belly; behind the back hooves; under the belly again; another lap around the front feet. Every time she circled the horse’s back feet, I held my breath, waiting for the kick to come.

None came.

“That is one patient horse you have there,” I told the ‘farmer.’

“Oh, she’s not mine, this is my neighbour’s field,” he informed me cheerfully. Oh, lord, I groaned. Vet bills AND lawsuits!

Meanwhile, his wife came running over with a bag of dog treats, shaking it noisily and calling “Here! Treats! Here!” Clearly, this had happened before.

“LEEEEE-IIII-AAAAA, HEEEEEEERE!” I called in the trail walking command we have been practicing since February. She actually heard my voice over her own excited barking, turned and trotted over to me. Miracles happen!

“I’ll just put her in the car before I pick out my plants,” I panted, hauling Leia by the collar in the direction of the car. Both horses ambled back home to the far side of the field; perhaps they’d had enough excitement for one morning.

The rest of my shopping was uneventful and I picked out a trunk load of beautiful perennials for my garden. As I loaded them in the car, a woman pulled up with a German Shepard in her car.

“Is it OK if I bring my dog with me?” she called to the owner. “I have his leash, and poo bags!”

“Sure!!” the ‘farmer’ responded enthusiastically. “No problem!”

As I pulled away, I remembered I had planned to look at tomato plants. I decided those could wait. Like the big red horses, I figured I’d had enough for one day…

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Smart scientists make dumb protest decisions

Correct me if I’m wrong – I don’t think “smart” people make fun of the taxpayers who fund them and the politicians that make spending decisions.

My brother hunts with beagles. The best photo he ever sent was of a “heap ‘o hounds,” four dogs collapsed together, a hilarious pile of big paws, long ears, and sensitive noses, sleeping in blissful, oblivious contentment.

“It’s good to be part of a pack,” my brother observed.

Viewing coverage of the protests by scientists organized for Earth Day, I can’t help but draw comparisons to my brother’s hounds: they were blissful, but oblivious.

Scientists are the most recent group to adopt the tactic of street protests which make everyone feel excited and empowered to be part of a pack but do little to advance their cause among elected officials.

Take, for example, teachers and the Mike Harris government. Aggrieved teachers took to the streets to protest Ontario’s new funding formula; inside government, we scrambled to respond to what appeared to be a public relations nightmare.

In fact, the team around Harris had gleaned through polling that the more the teachers protested, the more Harris’ approval ratings went UP; we actually began planning events that would attract protesters. Mike Harris easily won a second majority government in 1999.

The taxi industry in Toronto loves printing up yellow t-shirts and packing City Hall when taxi issues come up. In planning sessions I asked: “Why are we doing this? Councillors hate it when we do this. They feel threatened and intimidated. We are not allowed to speak or even clap. Why are we doing this?”

Because, the industry loves it. The Rotunda is a cross between old home week and a family reunion, thoroughly enjoyed by all. We lost every vote at council, though.

In 2009, I attended the Science Communications program at Banff with about 20 Ph.D scientists who were there to learn how to communicate science more effectively. At that time and in the years since, I have warned many of the good people I met, “Do not get into public protests. You will destroy your credibility, and garner no sympathy from politicians or taxpayers. Don’t become just another special interest group whining for more money. Don’t try to become politicians; they will not trust your advice if you try to compete with them as politicians.” Clearly, I lost that debate.

Under Stephen Harper, scientists paraded around Ottawa carrying a coffin, mourning “The Death of Science.” On Earth Day, 2017, they protested the Trudeau budget, taking their sector even further down the road toward being labelled as a group that will run out of governments to protest.

And yet, one of the Banff faculty members, who teaches journalism at an American university, posted this:

“I’ve been advocating for scientists to become more engaged in communication, policy, and politics for at least 20 years…I’m struck by how very far we’ve come and optimistic for what comes next.”

The coverage I saw had scientists waving signs that said, “Make America Smart Again” – mocking the president whose government will make funding decisions and insulting taxpayers who are not as “smart” as they are. Scientists should not play politics; they should not protest in the street. They should not call taxpayers stupid.

No matter how great it feels to be part of a pack.

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Work is Love made visible

Fried onions, cabbage (or-kale!), and mashed potatoes are Colcannon. Topped with two fried eggs, it’s a heart-warming breakfast full of Love.

Yesterday, I was honoured to swim in such a deep sea of Love that I woke up singing.

I spent most of the business day as a volunteer facilitator at the Healthy Minds/ TriOs College professional development day on Mental Health in the Workplace. Conference leader Sara Lindsay, who is doggedly and successfully living a fantastic life while managing a bi-polar disorder, was the most engaging, insightful presenter I’ve ever seen. The staff at TriOs College were 100% committed to finding ways to be ready to support both students and staff dealing with mental health issues that might prevent them from succeeding. I left the TriOs campus on wings, so excited that skillsets I needed desperately 15 years ago are now being taught positively and comprehensively.

I made a quick detour to drop off a pack of Tom Smith’s Blue Jays memorabilia on the front porch of work associate’s porch for her son who loves the Jays; then I drove to downtown Toronto to drop off a 33 rpm turntable and tape recorder from Uncle Dave’s basement to beloved friends who collect them. Our friendship was forged working together on crazy projects during a tumultuous time for the Ontario government. We had not seen each other for 10 years; they are new grandparents and we spent 2 hours talking and laughing, and laughing, talking and talking. I had to run out the door at 6:08 because my parking meter expired at 6:09!

From there I drove up to the David Duncan House, where 3 amazing clients were waiting for me. They had planned an incredible dinner in one of the most beautiful places in Toronto to thank me for my many years of hard work on behalf of the taxi industry. The pepper steak and ceasar salad made table-side were the best I’ve ever had. We talked and laughed for more than 5 hours before I headed home with an enormous “doggie bag” of delicious food.

This morning, I used the left over mashed potatoes to make Colcannon for breakfast. I will eat the rest of the pepper steak for dinner. I will think of everyone with every bite. If I lived one day like yesterday every 5 or 10 years, all the work in between would be worth it.

I wish everyone a day like yesterday: swimming in a sea of Love. Work is Love made visible.

xo

Rita

 

Preparing to meet God: “What did you do with the Talents I gave you?”

My neighbour was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer only a couple of months ago. This guy worked for OPG for 38 years and during that time, he took one sick day. ONE. In 38 years.

He retired 18 months ago, and was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer about a year later. It was in his lungs, his lymphatic system and his adrenal glands.

His decline was astonishingly rapid…the man who was vibrant, full of life, hefting stone porch steps and organizing gardens last summer could now barely breathe or talk.

He showed up at my front door one day last winter to return a plate. He rang my doorbell multiple times, then came into my house and took a seat at my table. Maybe he ate a cookie. I might have served him tea; I don’t recall.

The main thing was, that we spoke heart-to-heart, Cancer patient to Cancer patient.

“I remember the day I realized I was about to come face-to-face with God,” I told him. “All of a sudden, I knew I was going to have to explain to Him what I had done with my life – I was going to have to defend my life, when He asked me: ‘What did you do with the Talents I gave you?’”

That year, I was in a purely self-centred mode. Maybe I was dying; who knew? Maybe I would never have another chance to fix things with God.

When I look back on the life that I have lived, I think I did a pretty good job of working hard and using the Talents God gave me to the best purpose possible. However, I did regret that I had not given away more money to charity. Granted, I was broke for the first 35 years of my life, but later, when I did start to earn real money, I did not give enough of it away.

I hoped that perhaps I could remedy this problem by forgiving a $17,000 loan I had given to Jewish woman who was engaged in an activity that was very helpful to young children. It’s a long story, how I came to loan her the money and how she came to not pay it back, but anyway, in my self-centred and optimistically manipulative mindset (being egotistical enough to think I could manipulate God), I accepted her invitation to meet up for a bagel and negotiated this deal with her:

“Look here, I am not asking you to repay this loan, not now, not ever. Just keep helping kids. However – if I die and have to explain my life to God, I am going to tell Him this was a gift, for which I should get some kind of charitable credit. Since I am Catholic and you are Jewish, I hope I’ll get credit in both religious traditions.”

(My Greek Orthodox neighbour Sylvia, who prays for me often, is under strict instructions to deliver this message to God if she meets Him before I do: “Rita can explain.” I’m a big believer in having people of all faiths rationalize my life to God, in the hope it will make a difference.)

My neighbour almost never dropped eye contact with me while I cheerfully blathered on during this long story. He was listening intently; he seemed to be getting great comfort from a conversation that addressed some version of his looming reality, rather than delusional optimism about defeating Cancer. We hugged “good-bye” several times.

I saw him a week ago. Three of his grandchildren were raking his lawn; both of my dogs were running around like idiots. He was sitting on his beautiful stone porch step in a bathrobe, and his voice was so weak and raspy we could not actually speak but we hugged a lot before we said “Good-bye.”

He died at 3am this morning, Easter Saturday. I am glad for every conversation and hug that we had. I hope his conversation with God goes well. I think it will.

-30-

 

 

 

Essential Pans for new cooks

I probably never would have attempted Paella for a dozen people before, but my 15″ cast iron Lodge skillet gave me confidence. A truly bad ass cook, the kind who owns a skillet like this, is not afraid to try anything. But – NOBODY starts out at this level.

In a nice ironic coincidence, the same week two friends asked me about what are the most important pans to own, I received an email from Paderno announcing its semi-annual Factory Sale.

I took advantage of the opportunity to shoot a video (six videos) explaining my beliefs on what are the most basic important items (a cast iron skillet and a sharp French knife) to items which are more specialized, more expensive, and fun!

Putting all the information in one video resulted in a 47 minute video (!!!) so I have opted to post them here, Tier 1 to Tier 6, from the most basic items to the more expensive. The segments range in time from 4 minutes to 10 minutes.

I hope you find this information helpful – I love to see people encouraged to cook using the simple and straight-forward necessities. I hate to see anyone get caught in the clutches of a crazy-expensive kitchen wares store which will try to sell them every gadget possible, before they even have the basics. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Here is the link the the University of California – Davis paper on the safety comparison between plastic cutting boards and wood:

http://faculty.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/faculty/docliver/Research/cuttingboard.htm

Good luck!

Love, Rita

Tier 1

Tier 2

Tier 3

 

Tier 4: Dutch Ovens and Stock Pots

Tier #5: The fun stuff!

 

Tier 6 – Roasters

 

Here is a FABULOUS video on how wooden cutting boards are made:

“Each according to our station,” we need to speak out

The original Woman Marcher.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1MlD6cOUwc

The past several weeks have been a very interesting experience in speaking out: being silenced, and being supported.

I was born in the United States and I am a Donald Trump supporter (I give a fulsome explanation of why I am a Trump supporter in this blog).

I lost my mind for a minute there the weekend after Trump’s inauguration while viewing coverage of the so-called “women’s marches,” which had nothing to do with women’s rights and were simply anti-Trump rallies organized by a bunch of democratic sore losers who would be happy to see America fail if it also meant Trump would fail. I believe these people, their beliefs and their actions, are exceedingly dangerous to Democracy and the American republic. They are a danger to the entire globe.

While I was attacked pretty venomously when I published this blog, “America owes you nothing,” I was touched and encouraged by the number of people who contacted me to thank me for writing it. Probably my tone was harsher than it needed to be to make my point, but after two days of Linda Sarsour, Ashley Judd and Madonna, my patience and good will were at an all-time low.

My favourite vote of support came this week from a “pocket call,” a cell phone call I accidentally made while out on a dog walk. Rustling around in my coat pocket for a dog treat or a poo bag, I inadvertently “called” a long-time work associate. He was confused by the call from me and the fact that he could not hear any voice but only the wind and the water for 60 seconds.

Later we had a great chat and a laugh over my “pocket call” and I was saying good-bye when he interrupted me: “Rita, Rita, before you go – I wanted to thank you for what you have been writing lately. It is really encouraging to see somebody defending democracy and a rational point of view.”

With that in mind, I encourage everyone who loves democracy to view this amazing interview with historian Victor Davis Hanson. If you do not have time to watch the entire interview, at least pick it up at the 8 minute mark and hear his important comments on defending America.

Why should Canadians bother?

When I was in Michigan last weekend, my sister asked me, “Why do you care so much about what goes on here?”

“Because,” I shrugged, “without America, there is no Canada.”

She nodded philosophically; we all know it is true.

“If you don’t believe you are better than all the alternatives, nobody else will, and there’s no reason for you to continue…it has to be replenished psychologically. All of you in this room, we have a duty, each according to our station, each day, to say ‘The United States is better than the alternatives, and what in my own way can I do to remind people of that? And I’m not going to be silent about it.’ Criticizing what’s going on in this country is going to earn you wages that are very unfortunate, but if we don’t want to earn them, we’re going to lose the country.”

–Victor Davis Hanson

No accounting for tastes – with dogs OR kids

Forest spits out cooked carrots; Leia loves them, and will eat all of hers PLUS all of Forest’s. There is no accounting for tastes….

A dog trainer once told me that most people are surprised to learn that dogs love carrots.

“I use them as training treats,” he noted, pulling a baby carrot out of his pocket and giving it to one of his dogs, who gobbled it up happily.

My vet also once told me that in an effort to prevent weight gain, I could mix Forest’s dog food half-and-half with green beans. “He won’t know the difference!” the vet promised me.

I tried both of these tactics with Forest, who wasn’t being fooled for a second. The carrots he sniffed disdainfully, then discarded. The green beans were worse: he managed to eat all of the dog kibble in his bowl, carefully avoiding the green beans, so that when I emptied his bowl it was full of green beans and nothing else. I have to admire his integrity: he was holding out for real liver bits, which are his idea of a “treat.”

Enter Leia! Leia loves EVERYTHING. This dog has not met a sunrise, a frozen creek, a muddy walk, or a bowlful of boring food that she does not attack with relish and gusto. I only have to say “Well, good morning!” to her and she launches herself into paroxysms of joy and airborne acrobatics.

Yesterday I put a massive pot of beef bones and other essentials, including carrots, on the stove, to make beef broth. Five giant carrots were bubbling away in the pot along with celery, onion, and seasonings.

I hated to think of throwing the carrots out, big fat nutritious carrots cooked for 24 hours with beef marrow bones. “Maybe I could dice them up and use them for dog treats!” I thought, remembering the trainer’s words.

First I did a little test, tossing each of the dogs a circle of carrot. Forest spit his out on the floor; Leia ate hers, and then his, too.

Click here to see the video. 

Then I diced up some carrot and put a bit in each dog food bowl. Forest declined to eat much of anything at all, while Leia gobbled up everything in her bowl – carrots and kibble – and licked it clean. She looked longingly at Forest’s bowl, now up on the counter, virtually untouched. I’ll give it all to her later to finish, and give Forest his usual kibble with a couple of dots of cooked liver.

What’s the point of this story? EVERYONE is different. Especially to parents of young children – and I am happy to know so many – the advice you get from professionals might work for one child, but not another. The tried-and-true tricks you used to make one child happy might not make a second or third child happy at all.

Kind of like Leia on ice – one day she prances across the frozen creek or pond’s edge, gleefully running away at full speed and coming back laughing. The next day, the melting ice breaks beneath her weight and she gets a quick, cold bath in shallow water– whoops! Who knew? She’ll figure it out.

You’ll figure it out, too.

-30-

Headlines versus Click Bait

 

head·line

ˈhedˌlīn/

noun

  1. a heading at the top of an article or page in a newspaper or magazine.

“a front-page headline”

 

click·bait

ˈklikbāt/

noun

informal

noun: click bait

  1. (on the Internet) content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.

“these recent reports of the show’s imminent demise are hyperbolic clickbait”

 

 

The internet has changed the rules of engagement for headline writing

and story layout immensely; now, instead of glancing at a headline

which gives a time-saving summary of the story,

you are more likely to see click-bait:

“12 ways to lose weight! #7 flipped us out!”

or “You’ll never guess who owns this puppy!”

 

Back in the day, I actually learned how to lay out newspapers on these things called “flats,” which were thick coated paper (not quite cardboard) scored with light blue (invisible to print) lines and columns custom designed to fit our newspaper, Taxi News.

The printer of Taxi News was a local newspaper, the Korea Times (KT). KT provided us with the flats, which fit their press. Once each month, after laying out the entire 32 page edition of Taxi News, we would drop it off at KT and they would print 10,000 copies of it for us.  One day later, we would pick up the 10,000 copies of Taxi News and drop them off at taxi companies and gas stations around the city.

Taxi News was very progressive at the time, so early in using Desk Top Publishing that it purchased the very first laser printer Apple ever sold in Canada, using a Beta version of Adobe PageMaker.

It was a unique intersection of old and new: we used the very newest technology to laser print text to paper – custom measured to the column size provided on our KT flats (a Taxi News column was 2 inches wide); but we cut each column with an Exacto knife, waxed it with a waxer, and affixed it to the KT flat in a very physical process. We did not lay out entire pages on a computer screen, as we do now. We stuck waxed pieces of text to the flat for a very specific reason: ad sales.

All newspapers run on ad sales. What was true then is just as true now. Newspapers in years past were so ready to accommodate advertising sales that they developed an entire layout system around it. We called it “Proper Paper Procedure,” or “PPP” for short.

PPP meant that we followed the layout rules established for newspapers at least a century ago: articles were written in “reverse pyramid” format, meaning that the most important paragraph, the lede, contained a concise and compelling statement of all the news to follow and the most important factual statement. We were taught that a lede could not be more than 19 words long.

Editorial copy and headlines written in “reverse pyramid” format allow the layout team to edit automatically when space is needed for new ads or breaking stories.

Paragraph #2 elaborated on Graph #1 with additional facts which provided context.

Paragraph #3 was generally the “Nut Graph,” which contained the nub of the information being presented with more context and would likely answer the question, “Why does this article matter?”

Everything below Graph #3 was carefully written as a stand-alone paragraph which gave the reader further information, but was basically disposable. Nothing in Graphs 1, 2, or 3 could be dependent upon information in Graph #4 and onward. If the article had 8 paragraphs, #8 was the most disposable, #7 the second-most disposable, and so on.

Nothing in any paragraph could be dependent upon or refer to information in a following paragraph.

Why was this so? Ad sales! Every publication which prints ink on paper wants to maximize the number of ads within its pre-determined number of pages. Adding pages is almost never an option, so squeezing the absolute maximum number of ads into a limited number of pages becomes something of an art form.

If an ad salesman turned up with an ad at the last minute during layout and we needed to make space for it, articles got ripped off the flat to make room for the ad. Ads always take priority over articles; they pay the printer. And the staff.

So, if we needed to make room for an ad at the last minute, we began editing articles this way: the bottom paragraph went first – gone.

The second bottom paragraph went next – gone.

And so on, until we had emptied enough column inches to place the ad. Sometimes such an edit would affect only one article; more likely we’d pull off the disposable bottom paragraphs of each article on the page to keep the most important information, while preserving at least the lede, Graph #2 and the “Nut Graph” and a couple of others.

There was no editorial authority required to ask if we could trim a reverse-pyramid article from the bottom up: every hard news article was written in this style and anyone with an Exacto knife could cut from the bottom up, confident that no important information would be lost, and that no preceding information would suddenly be put out of context. For a couple of centuries, every newspaper being printed followed these rules, Proper Paper Procedure.

Taxi News was 5 columns wide at 2 inches per column; an article across the top of the page would be 5 columns wide; beneath that, probably 3 columns wide; and at the bottom nearest the fold, 1 column wide.

An article 2 columns wide and 4 inches deep – 8 column inches – could be pulled to make room for a 2 inch x 4 inch ad.

A larger ad (or maybe a breaking story) could mean that the layout team would have to re-arrange an entire page, pulling the least important articles completely and trimming – literally cutting the paper – the larger stories from the bottom up in order to free up enough column inches to place the ad.

How does PPP affect headline writing?

A headline which runs across 5 columns would be long, providing enough room to give a pretty good precis of the story below. If there was room for a 2- line headline, even more so. However, a headline 2 inches deep and 10 inches wide is 20 column inches – that’s a lot of space! That’s an ad 2 columns wide and 5 inches deep. That’s money.

As we started laying out the flats, we could be fairly generous with the headlines when there was space. If ads got sold as we were laying out – and we really would take ads right up until virtually the last minute – the first thing to go would be the long, deep headlines. With an Exacto knife, we’d cut off the second line of the headline and re-arrange the page to move the story up and make space for the ad.

This is why headlines must be written in “reverse pyramid” style the same way articles are: so they can be easily be cut without re-wording and with no editorial authority.

So, using my favourite parody headline as an example:

Boy trapped in fridge eats own foot

Police, medics too late to the scene

 

If we had to pull the second line, it would simply read:

Boy trapped in fridge eats own foot

 

If we had to move the article down the page where the headline could only be 3 columns wide, not 5, it would be laid out as:

Boy trapped in fridge

Eats own foot

 

If it had to be narrower still, it could be cut as:

Boy trapped

In fridge

Eats own foot

 

Shorter:

Boy trapped

In fridge

 

And shortest:

Boy trapped

 

In the same way that an article written in reverse pyramid cannot allow any paragraph to be dependent on a paragraph that follows it, PPP headlines are written so that no line is dependent on the line below – it has to be complete in itself and stand alone, in case it must.

By observing the rules of PPP throughout the writing and layout process, including both the article layout and the headline layout, newspapers could quickly rearrange an article, multiple articles or an entire page to make room for paid advertising or hot stories. More likely, paid advertising.

PPP rules apply to hard news stories; editorials, Op-Eds, columns, features and other human interest pieces often follow a different format, with teaser openings or telling a story in chronological order, not using reverse pyramid.

For 30 years now, newspapers have used software and other tools to quickly lay out entire editions electronically. However, even computer layouts need to follow the long-ago developed rules of PPP if print publications want to retain their ability to take last minute ads without adding pages.

The internet has changed the rules of engagement for headline writing and story layout immensely; now, instead of glancing at a headline which gives a time-saving summary of the story, you are more likely to see click-bait: “12 ways to lose weight! #7 flipped us out!” or “You’ll never guess who owns this puppy!”

Online publications, in addition to having a financial incentive to coax readers to click through endless, time-wasting pages, have virtually unlimited space in which to publish. A person who came of age reading online publications may not even realize there used to be a time when you could scan the headlines and/or the first couple of paragraphs of a whole newspaper section and get the gist of what was being reported that day. Instead, they are lost in a maze of links and lures. (“Geez!” my daughter once told me. “I went online to check something, and when I looked up, an hour had passed!” That kind of experience is the exact opposite of the logic of reverse pyramid and PPP.)

Personally, I have always appreciated the fact that somewhere, a team of writers, editors, headline writers and layout people are hard at work organizing information to save me time and effort. The Toronto Sun’s daily electronic paper is an exact replica of its paper edition, and I LOVE it! The logic, the flow, the prioritization and placement of content is all there, electronically. It’s awesome.

Long live PPP!

The Toronto Sun’s e-edition is an exact electronic replica of its paper layout – you can scan the whole thing in 5 minutes, if you need to. It’s terrific!

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