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How To Make An Entrance

If you dipped into the Boodle late yesterday you saw newsman Curmudgeon's smackdown of snobby Posties:

...we "locals" invariably hated the WaPo reporters. There might be as many as six or eight of us covering the same event or press conference or whatever, and you could always tell who was the WaPo man or woman: the late-20-something in the Britches or Gap or Banana Republic clothes, who had an Ivy League or Big 10 degree (not in journalism), with an attitude. (Sorry, Joel, but I'm just reporting here, in the spirit of truth-telling). They invariably weren't born/raised in this area, and seldom lived in the boonies with us "common folk," but lived in DC/Georgetown/Bethesda (very upscale, in other words), while we lived in the local communities we covered (of necessity). They were doing their obligatory one or two years in a beat assignment out in the boonies, were arrogant, distant, "I'm from the Post, so kiss my a--," and it was obvious they were only going to be here for a little while before moving up the food chain to "real" journalism.

Dear Mudge: I can't speak for anyone else at The Post, but in my own case, arrogance and snobbery are not character defects so much as professional traits that have been carefully honed through years of training. I'm not asking for sympathy, but trust me, it takes endurance to learn how to carry yourself with a delusional air of superiority while simultaneously making everyone around you feel worse about themselves.

A lot of this can be accomplished in the first seconds of an encounter. So much depends upon The Entrance. You want to walk into a news event with an ambling gait that screams confidence, without tipping over into the egregiosity of an actual swagger. You want to have the air of a person who is establishing ownership. You must do everything but plant a flag. You should have a rakish tilt of the head and an enigmatic smile dancing upon your lips. A well-timed wink can be a devastating weapon.

When you see someone you know, your hand should assume the shape of a gun as you fire a playful bullet into the acquaintance. (At Princeton we practiced this over and over, to make sure the index finger and thumb were in the proper position. We knew that everyone would judge us by the cut of our jib, and made sure to buy our jibs at the right places. You don't want people thinking, "He bought that jib at discount.")

These principles go far beyond journalism, into any area where personal success depends upon techniques and gestures. No matter who you are, you should want everyone to think that you know a lot of secret handshakes. And you must tell yourself that you are the only person who can possible handle the situation you're in -- that everyone else in the joint might as well pack up and leave.

Your eternal battle cry: "Thank God I'm here."

I hope this has been helpful and clarifying.

By Joel Achenbach  |  March 16, 2006; 9:45 AM ET
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