Final Impressions

Chilling tales from the world of journalism

Written by James Combs

Boo! Bad writing from old publications continues to terrorize children today. 

The night October sky twinkles with bright stars. The air pulses with the steady rhythm of chirping crickets and croaking bullfrogs. 

It’s the final night at Camp Cahulawassee, a weeklong camp for kids interested in journalism. As golden flames leap from the fire, campers anxiously sit in a circle. 

Sporting a sinister grin, camp counselor Igor is about to share hauntingly horrific examples of journalistic writing, knowing it will elicit more fear than any story about a machete-wielding, hockey mask-wearing psychopath. He reaches into a bag full of old newspapers and magazines collected by his great-grandfather in Kentucky. 

The children nervously lock hands as Igor begins reading the opening sentence of a 1962 feature article about Lexington, the state’s second-largest city. 

“Lexington, Kentucky, is a city that has telephone poles, convenience stores, and stop signs.” 

Great Caesar’s ghost! The “no-crap Sherlock” statement scares the crap out of the group. Little Timmy covers his eyes. Little Sarah ducks for safety under her lawn chair and curls into a ball. Little David screams “Mommy!” at the top of his lungs.

“Kids, kids, calm down,” Igor tells them. “I know that was horrifying to hear, but let us learn a lesson from it. Rather than thinking of something creative that would hook readers into the story, this journalist stated something obvious that the reader already knows. Unfortunately, most people probably stopped reading after that sentence.” 

Igor pulls out a yellow-stained newspaper from 1977. He reads the opening paragraph of a story written by Tammy “The Squawker” Peterson, a journalist from Louisville.

“Today, Johnny Davis, of Harlan, a town located in southeastern Kentucky, was arrested for distributing moonshine, an illegal substance made from the mash of corn and sugar, and he faces a stiff penalty of 13 years in Big Sandy Federal Prison, which is located in Paintsville, home of the Kentucky Apple Festival, and has housed other famous Kentucky criminals arrested for murder, burglary, robbery, drugs, and kidnapping.” 

For the love of God! This confusing, 67-word sentence of information overload causes an overload in little Brian’s underwear. Screaming frantically, little Jenny makes a beeline to the cabin and hides under her bed. 

“Please stop,” pleads little Rebecca as tears run down her cheek. “That’s too many words and too many facts packed into one sentence. I cannot take any more!”

Igor settles the campers down. 

“I read that because I want you to realize you don’t have to cram a bunch of information into one sentence,” he says. “Much of that was background information and could’ve been saved for later in the story.”

Igor reads several other examples of faulty writing, including the overuse of exclamation points, terrible transitioning from one idea to the next, and another “no-crap Sherlock” sentence: “Tim Couch is a quarterback who throws footballs during games.”

As the night concludes with the roasting of marshmallows over a campfire, he asks an important question. 

“What have you children learned tonight?”

Little Rachel makes an astute observation.

“Yesterday’s journalists write like today’s third-graders.” 

About the author

James Combs

Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County’s many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!

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