A friend of mine asked me about the term three dot journalism the over the weekend realizing that I now had something else to explain to people besides Baghdad by the Bay. It was a term coined by Herb Caen to describe his style of writing and it stuck with him to the point that Herb Caen Way… in San Francisco even had the three dots after the name.
Asking my wife, the writer, for a bit of background information, she mentioned that the three dots [called an ellipsis to English teachers just to make you feel stupid, but had no other use] was a technique used by writers to separate the end of one thought they had written before starting the next thought. It was a sort of sledgehammer way of saying I’m done and now I’m moving on. I’m not sure if it’s used much anymore, but it was not long ago because on a Macintosh computer if you hold down the option and his the semi colon you’ll get … .
Herb’s columns had a lot of information on a lot of topics so it seemed fitting to separate them so people reading the column wouldn’t get lost. If you want to see an example of three dot journalism today you’ll have to ready Willie Brown’s Sunday column in the Chronicle. He’s taken to the topic like a pro. Say what you will about Willie, but he’s the closest thing we have to Herb Caen today. Yes, there is Carl Nolte who also writes for the Chronicle, but Carl is focused on the old times of San Francisco that Herb Caen wrote about when they were new. Willie is continuing on to write about current news and his somewhat opinionated take on it. I look forward to reading Willie’s column every week. Sometimes I even agree with him.
Herb Caen would talk about politics, then … then a trip to the symphony … then a guy who he ran into at lunch that asked him a question he had to think about until he got back to the office and wrote about it then … then something else entirely. Everything was different, every day was different, but the three dots held it all together. It was the glue that made it a newsworthy column and not just the ramblings of boy from Sacramento who was enthralled with the city of San Francisco.