Kevin Kaufman liked to ask himself questions so he could answer them himself and prove an important point in the process.
“Do I want to hold the presses to get the final results of the election in the paper and pay overtime to press workers?” he asked one election night. “No, I do not.” Then he follow up with: “Do I want the readers to have the final results on their doorsteps when they wake up? Yes, I do.”
Kevin, the late Editor of the Boulder Daily Camera, was posthumously honored last month with the Keeper of the Flame award by the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies awards ceremony.
Kevin was the city editor at the Daily Camera when I was hired in the late 1990s, and he held nearly every job at the Camera during his 25-year tenure. When he died unexpectedly in February, he had risen to the job of Editor. He successfully navigated through different owners, publishers and round after round of layoffs.
During my time at the Camera, I worked closely with Kevin. It was still the heyday of journalism, with fat classified ad sections, a deep bench of journalists, and no competition from Google or Facebook. Our bread-and-butter was delivering the actual newspaper filled with engaging journalism each morning on peoples’ door steps.
We had the luxury of focusing on in-depth, thoughtful reporting, which meant embedding ourselves in our community to find the best stories. Under Kevin’s leadership, we focused on the news and the craft of writing. Kevin was a big believer in making sure every story in the paper adhered to the “High Five” rule, meaning stories had to include these five elements:
- News: What happened, or what’s happening?
- Context: What’s the background for the event or trend?
- Scope: What is the magnitude of the event?
- Edge: Where’s the news leading? What happens next?
- Impact: Why should the reader care?
These rules still resonate today not just in journalism, but in all communications.
In addition to these five elements, Kevin was a big proponent of counting words in the first paragraph of a news article. This paragraph, called the lead, had to be focused, engaging and newsworthy and by his rule, 25 words or less. Anything more was a failure and unlikely to get the reader to read the rest of the story. (If you are counting, my lead in this blog is 21 words long. Kevin would be proud.)
It’s been 18 years since I last worked with Kevin, but his journalism lessons have stuck with me. I continue to use the “High Five” rule in my writing and continue to count words in introductory paragraphs.
God speed Kevin Kaufman.