May 21, 2017

Napa icon & journalist L. Pierce Carson passes away at 76

NAPA, Calif. - I landed in the Napa Register newsroom in April of 1973. The Watergate political pot was coming to a hard boil. L. Pierce Carson would run home at lunchtime all summer, watch part of the hearings  on television and come back, breathless about what was going on.

L. Pierce Carson
He ran home because he didn't drive, didn't own a car, and was the most skilled guy at bumming rides I have ever met.

He was also one of most skilled journalistic-style writers I have ever met, skilled in a low-key way.

My first encounter with Pierce came weeks after I started a quasi-internship in the newsroom. I had graduated with a degree in English and thought all paragraphs had to be looooooong affairs (300 words was a nice length), strewn liberally with semicolons and other grammatical flourishes.

After being shredded publicly numerous times by the late Harry Martin, then city editor of the Napa Register, Pierce secretly looked over a story I had typed, made some alterations and had me retype it before I turned it in.

It flew past Martin and into the newspaper - my very first byline.

With Margrit Monday
And so I started studying how Pierce would write stories about county government, stories that could have been so dull without his touch, but were as interesting as fiction I was reading. He had a bagful of writing tricks, plus he knew his stuff. I studied his style and learned well.

Several generations of students at CSU Chico and CSU Sacramento learned the LPC writing method in my journalism classes, not always knowing where it came from.

My favorite image of L. Pierce Carson is of him challenging someone in the Register advertising department to a duel right in the middle of the newsroom. They retired to their desks, returning with umbrellas, which they poked playfully at each other to the delight of the newspaper staff.

Pierce won the duel by making the ad salesman laugh so hard he couldn't hold his umbrella.

Rest in peace, L. Pierce Carson. And keeping 'hooking' paragraphs the way you taught me.

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