A more beautiful downtown ... Ladybugs ... and other things

    It hardly seems possible, but here we are at the end of February already. The 59th day of 1999 is here. That's somewhere around 15 percent of the year now behind us. Y2K continues its relentless march (pun intended) onward.
    Will March come in like a lion or a lamb? I'd feel really sheepish to predict the latter, but the winter of '98-99 has been tame enough that a day with temperatures in the 50s or 60s could hardly come as a surprise to us. Then again, I wouldn't want to be guilty of pulling the wool over anyone's eyes.
There's still plenty of 1999 to go 'round. I hope the rest of yours goes well for you.

    I'll be anxious to watch the plans for the revitalization of downtown Clarksburg progress over the weeks and months. I am glad that the wheels may finally be in motion to dress up the city's actual business district. This makes the statement to me that at least downtown Clarksburg isn't being neglected.
    As I've perhaps conveyed in my past columns, downtown Clarksburg has a rich history - far too many memories to be blown away like a tumbleweed in a duststorm of migration to the outskirts.
    It was just a couple weeks ago that Mrs. Glenwood Brown of Bridgeport brought to me an old Clarksburg newspaper clipping from some time in the 1970s that showed an artist's conception of plans for the downtown, extending across the Clarksburg Expressway (U.S. Route 50) and including Glen Elk.
    The Clarksburg Area Development Authority's sketch was a most impressive-looking plan, especially the original color print that showed a proposed civic center, among other things.
    I heard rumors a few years ago as to why the plan faltered, (of course none of which I'd be prepared to prove). Although perhaps not as major in proportion, I hope there'll be nothing to stand in the way of a beautification drive this time.
    At any rate, I had wondered whether I'd ever see the newspaper photo again, even if not the color print that showed the model by Whalen L. King's architectural firm in Clarksburg. My thanks to Mrs. Brown for bringing the clipping to my office.

    In last Sunday's column, I'd mentioned thinking of the top stories of the millennium and mentioned the years 1000-1999. Technically speaking, the past millennium began in 1001 and ends in 2000. (I knew that.) But by saying it began in 1000, that way I was able to include the real discovery of America by Leif Erikson and the Vikings in 1000. Thanks for the cards and letters.

    This past Tuesday evening after "NYPD Blue," I didn't change the channel, and WKRN-TV, Channel 2 in Nashville, came on with a story about a woman in Wayne County, Tenn., whose home was overrun by thousands  (maybe millions) of ladybugs.
    Generally, if I see a ladybug (I think the proper word is 'ladybird') I don't bother it, since it's supposed to be a sign of good luck.
    Somehow, I can't believe the Tennessee woman regarded such an infestation necessarily as a sign of endless good luck.

Before closing, I'd like to include a list of 10 positive assertions:
1. I will accept that all things are possible.
2. I will look for an answer in every problem.
3. I will make and keep my commitments.
4. I will find the proper people who can help me.
5. I will make it OK to be "wrong" and make mistakes.
6. I will be who I am and become what I was meant to be.
7. I will not be afraid to lose before I win.
8. I will create my own "good luck."
9. I will give up "trying."
10. I will do it NOW!
Have a terrific week!

We should work hard to
show Dominion that it should stay in Clarksburg

If anything is a constant in today's business world, it's change.
    Ever-changing market conditions, consumer needs and regulatory climates make the ability to change an essential characteristic for modern companies. Businesses that refuse to change, or can't change, usually don't last too long.
    So it came to pass last week that executives with Consolidated Natural Gas Co. decided it was time for their company to change. The time was right, CNG executives decided, to sell their firm to Dominion Resources Inc., a Virginia-based power company. This sale, CNG and Dominion officials said, will make the companies stronger. It probably will.
    Still, the Monday morning announcement of this sale, or merger if you prefer, caused quite a bit of consternation in the Clarksburg area.
    The concerns were valid. After all, two CNG subsidiaries, CNG Transmission and Hope Gas, employ 500 to 600 people here. And the CNG jobs are good ones -with good wages, good benefits, and, until the sale announcement was made, good stability. Jobs like those held by CNG and Hope Gas employees are hard to come by around here.
    With the announcement of the sale, employees were scared. This was understandable. When change occurs, there is uncertainty. "Will I still have my job in six months? Will the new boss approve of the way I do business? Will I have to learn and master a whole new work routine?"
    In addition, CNG has been an important corporate citizen of Harrison County. The firm's well-paid and well-educated work force has been a major supporter of downtown restaurants, flower shops, newsstands and drug stores. CNG employees buy homes, donate to charities in a big way, purchase new cars and subscribe to newspapers. So, Clarksburg's business, civic and governmental leaders were worried, too.
    Will those jobs stay in Clarksburg? If CNG leaves for Virginia, or Pittsburgh, who will we get to replace them?
Then on Tuesday, an article appeared in the Exponent and in the Telegram quoting CNG Senior Vice President Ron Adams as saying that Hope and CNG Transmission will stay in Clarksburg. In a press release, the companies also said they expect "minimal work force reductions as a result of this merger." You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief emanating from downtown Clarksburg.
    We let loose a sigh, too. Then we thought about it, and while we hate to say it, the CNG saga is not over. We're not insinuating that Mr. Adams or the public relations officials for CNG and Dominion are trying to mislead anyone by saying jobs will stay in Clarksburg. In fact, we're fairly confident that the companies won't be making any drastic moves soon.
But the fact is that Dominion Resources, like any good business, will be looking to find efficiencies and economies of scale in order to help make their purchase profitable. They have to. That's good business.
    Also, we can't forget that the business climate (especially the energy and utility business climate) is changing every day. While Mr. Adams may not envision any drastic changes in employment here at the moment, we believe that he'd be quick to tell anyone who would listen that change in his business is inevitable. One-stop shopping for gas, electric, telephone, cable TV and Internet access may not be too far off in the future. How might that affect CNG's or Dominion's structure and employment picture?
    As we see it, there are two ways the employees of CNG and the business and civic leaders of our community can react to this reality.
1. Sit and worry and curse today's corporate climate. Or,
2. Work aggressively to show the folks at Dominion why Clarksburg is a good place in which to live and conduct business.
    We suggest the second approach. And, we think, being successful in this type of effort is largely a matter of personal responsibility - a responsibility that everyone in our community must assume. Here's how:
    Employees must show their new bosses they're hard-working, innovative and efficient. Show them that moving your jobs elsewhere would not increase efficiency or save money. Rather than worrying, and just expecting your company to keep you here, work harder than ever before.
    Business people, especially those downtown business owners who depend so much on CNG business, should elevate service and quality to new heights. This will help motivate employees and company officials to work even harder to keep the CNG businesses in town.
    City officials should pick up the pace in launching revitalization efforts in downtown Clarksburg. By improving the quality of life here, we'll improve the chances CNG employees and corporate leaders will be motivated to stay.
    Even if we can accomplish all these things, there are still no guarantees Dominion will keep its new CNG subsidiaries in town. If changing business conditions warrant a move, Dominion will move. But at least we will have tried.
    The last word here: Don't sulk over the CNG situation, Clarksburg. Buck up and do what you can to help convince Dominion Resources to keep their businesses in town. It might work.

This editorial reflects the consensus opinion of both the Exponent and Telegram editorial boards and was written by Executive Editor William J. Sedivy.

You, too, can be a professional journalist

    I'm going to teach you to be a professional writer by the time you finish reading today's column. This is remarkable because people spend four years or more in college to get a journalism degree to qualify them to write for a newspaper or magazine. You'll be qualified in another five or six minutes.
    Your job as a journalist will be to take information that you learn or hear and communicate it to others. How do you get the information? You simply ask questions. Be curious about everything. Talk to a lot of people. Spend most of your time listening to others. That is what the best journalists do.
    I'm going to assume you have gone out to talk to some people about some subject. Now you've got your information for your story. What to do next? Organize your thoughts in order of importance. Think of the most important thing you learned. Try to write it down in one sentence. Then think of the other important things you learned. Write each of them down in one sentence.
    Keep writing each one thing you learned in one sentence pieces until you run out of things that you learned. You now have the first draft for your story.
    It is now time to edit your story to make it clear, concise and alive. How in the world do you do that? I'm going to give you some rules to follow. There are also examples to follow. The examples are drawn from the report prepared by independent counsel Ken Starr's staff for the Congress.
1. Keep sentences short. Make them simple sentences. Subject, verb and object only. Just subject and verb is best. A good example written by me: "Bill Clinton knew Monica Lewinsky." If you study that sentence you will see that it says quite a bit. You could expound on it forever but that sentence pretty much tells the story.
    Here's an example of a bad sentence written by the Starr team: "Subsequent sections recount the evolution of the relationship chronologically, including the sexual contacts, the President's efforts to get Ms. Lewinsky a job, Ms. Lewinsky's subpoena in Jones v. Clinton, the role of Vernon Jordan, the President's discussions with Ms. Lewinsky about her affidavit and deposition, the President's deposition testimony in Jones, the President's attempts to coach a potential witness in the harassment case, the President's false and misleading statements to aides and to the American public after the Lewinsky story became public, and, finally, the President's testimony before a federal grand jury."
    This sentence is much too long. It also has too many big words. It obviously confused the U.S. Senate. That leads us to the next rule.
2. Use common words: Avoid big, multi-syllable words. An example: "Some of Ms. Lewinsky's statements about the relationship were contemporaneously memorialized." I have no idea what that means. I assume most of the 100 U.S. Senators didn't have a clue, either. So here you have another example of very bad writing.
3. Make it clear. Don't be ambiguous. An example of not making it clear from the Starr team: "The President did not dispute his legal representative's assertion that the President and Ms. Lewinsky had "absolutely no sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form," nor did he dispute the implication that Ms. Lewinsky's affidavit, in denying "a sexual relationship," meant that there was "absolutely no sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form." In subsequent questioning by his attorney, President Clinton testified under oath that Ms. Lewinsky's affidavit was "absolutely true.""
This was obviously ambiguous. Who knows what the president meant. Something more simple from the Starr team would have helped our Senators. How about: "The president lied."
4. Use the active voice. An example was the President's grand jury testimony, when he said: "I certainly didn't want this to come out, if I could help it. And I was concerned about that. I was embarrassed about it. I knew it was wrong." The president should have asked: "Please define lying and cheating again?"
    You now know the secret of good reporting (ask questions) and writing (organize your thoughts in order of importance and keep it simple, stupid).
    The bad news is you really don't want to be a journalist. The hours are bad, the pay is not that good and the critics abound. There will always be those who say you are writing with an unfair agenda. Take this column for example. I'm trying to teach you to write. But someone will undoubtedly claim I had another aim.

Terry Horne is the publisher of the Exponent and Telegram. His column appears every Sunday.


Clarksburg Publishing Company, P.O. Box 2000, Clarksburg, WV 26302 USA
Copyright Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999