Within minutes of finishing a Rough Draft column we start getting the first e-mails expressing horror that we are paid to do this job. The other day, for example, a couple of readers argued that the column failed to present a fully rounded, carefully articulated, coherent point. "One of the worst pieces of writing I have ever seen" was the description from one reader who was so appalled he was on the verge of becoming aghast.
Clearly we need to explain something about the Rough Draft column. We work very hard to meet, on a consistent basis, a certain standard of reporting and writing. That standard can be summarized in a word: Fast.
Understand what this is: A daily column for which insensibility is a structural imperative. When we signed up for this, we insisted that, in exchange for writing three columns a week, each of them written EARLY IN THE MORNING in a caffeine-induced frenzy when we would much prefer to GO SHOPPING or read DETAILS MAGAZINE or wander around in a STUPOROUS DAZE, that there had to be (and this is our attorney's exact phrase) "concessions on quality."
We are, in this case, the concessionaire. You, the reader, are the concessor. There are market forces at work here, as in all commercial ventures. The market determines the quality, and price, of the goods presented to the consumer. We will note that the price the reader pays for this column is, last we checked, zero dollars and zero cents, and holding. When we write a column that is a hideous sack of blather and drool, the market is being, as professional economists would put it, "rational."
Here's what you get here, at least when we're not ranting about ourselves: Talking points about the latest buzz about the hot stories on the cutting edge of the breaking news.
For example, the Supreme Court this morning agreed to review the use of the electric chair for capital punishment, a matter that for many years has been (and here's where we add incredible value to the news) sparking controversy.
Tonight Al Gore faces Bill Bradley in their first debate, which, against all odds, is turning into a much more dramatic contest than this Yankees-Braves debacle. Gore has problems with his starting pitching and may need someone to provide middle relief. And he's got no closer. (So maybe that makes no sense, but it SOUNDS like talking points.)
In all seriousness, the big story this morning is a terrorist massacre in Armenia that has taken the life of the country's prime minister, Vazgen Sarkisian. The attack, which took place while Sarkisian was addressing the parliament, was captured on videotape.
Incredibly, that about wraps up today's column. We believe we have met the standard previously aforementioned.
Believe us when we say that our paramount goal for a column is that it be finished, filed, posted. A good column is a done column. Ninety percent of the game is showing up. Check the archives and you will see that there are good columns and there are bad columns and there are columns that someone should have taken out back and beaten to death with a shovel. But they are there. We posted them. You think some of the columns end a bit abruptly? It should be viewed as an extravagant achievement in literary styling and intellectual closure that we managed to round off a column with the little punctuation mark known as the period.
If anything, the problem with Monday's posting (which was about a trip to AOL headquarters), was that it evinced an EXCESS of effort. It involved going forth into the world and asking questions and taking notes and making observations. If we were to keep doing that sort of thing on a regular basis, and then started laboring to "shape" and "craft" and "polish" the work, you can just imagine what it would lead to. Exactly: Serious Journalism.
They will turn this column into that when they pry it from our cold, dead, carpal-tunnel-ravaged fingers.
(Rough Draft, a tremendous pain in the bungus, appears at 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, exclusively here at washingtonpost.com except in rare cases when it inadvertently meets the ink-and-paper standard.)