Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Where ‘G’ stands for ‘Go look it up’ .. not ‘Google’

December 11, 2013

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G stands for 'Go look it up' not 'Google it' at Jon Talton's place.

I hate to be an exhibitionist, but here it is: My reference stand. And I use it. Every day. In the digital age.

It’s probably a sign of the tar pits awaiting me, but I take comfort in physical books, especially physical reference books. But more than aesthetics are at work. The best reference books are prepared with impeccable scholarship, writing and editing.

Wikipedia is useful, but sometimes incomplete or wrong. Answers one finds on the Internet can be incorrect. One must be a careful consumer of digital information, particularly if it is going in a new story, analysis or column.

So while I use “the tubes” extensively, the dear trusted reference stand is beside me. I use it every day.

The backbone:

  • The Columbia Encyclopedia, the finest single-volume of its kind.
  • Two dictionaries.
  • The Oxford Atlas of the World.
  • The AP Style Book (and for my novel writing, the Chicago Manual of Style).
  • Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.
  • The Oxford Thesaurus.
  • Fowler’s Modern English Usage and the Oxford Companion to the English Language.
  • Black’s Law Dictionary, pocket edition.
  • The Elements of Style by Strunk & White.

On another shelf, I have books specifically about business and economics. These include Barron’s Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms; Barron’s Finance and Investment Handbook; The Dictionary of Modern Economics; the Columbia Knight-Bagehot Guide to Business and Economics Journalism; Writing About Business (The new Columbia Knight-Bagehot Guide), and The Worldly Philosophers, Robert Heilbroner’s superb compendium of 200 years of economic thought.

I’m not totally in the bone yard. On my iPad and iPhone are the Oxford Dictionary of Economics Google Translator; The World by National Geographic and a Pinyin pronunciation guide to Chinese.

There was a time when an arrogant reporter could say, “the copy desk will catch that.” It was a fool’s statement then (guilty as charged), but now it is extremely risky for your credibility. With ongoing job cuts, fewer copy editors — especially the veterans — are available. Often writers, especially bloggers and freelancers, are working with the flimsiest of nets.

So, yes, I am a bibliophile. But I keep and add to my reference stand and the collection that has burst those surly bonds to land on adjacent shelves. Because even with a world of information at my fingertips on the computer, some of it even accurate, the time-tested books are the best companions to good writing and credibility.

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