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Being versed in the mediaverse: Retired PR executive pens a handy guide to insider lingo.

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Ever stayed past the end of a movie, perhaps to catch the music credits, a blooper reel, or, in the case of the latest X-Men picture, a final scene that sets up the next film in the series? If so -- and we've all done this -- you've undoubtedly scratched your head at the arcane job titles crawling up the screen.

What the heck, after all, is a "best boy," or "Foley artist" or "set puller"?

In a handy little volume called The Skinny About Best Boys, Dollies, Green Rooms, Leads and other Media Lingo (Random House Reference, $14.95), Richard Weiner provides definitions to these and scores of other jargon words from the worlds of TV, newspapers, radio, movies, advertising and the Internet.

"The media is all around us," says Weiner, 79, a retired public relations executive and lifelong writer on media matters. "It's obvious people are interested in behind-the-scenes lingo. And it's now possible, by keeping up with the jargon you read and hear, to be as sophisticated as someone on Broadway or in Hollywood."

The Skinny may be based on Weiner's weighty reference tome, The Webster's New World Dictionary of Media and Communications, but the new book is much more than a dictionary.

The book consists of 27 sprightly essays that compare favorably to William Safire's "On Language" column in The New York Times Magazine, providing a veritable college-level course on the language of entertainment and media. Which is only appropriate, as several of Weiner's 23 books continue to be used as textbooks and references in university classes on journalism, PR and mass communications.

Indeed, Weiner delights in visiting libraries as he travels across the country and around the world, looking to find his books on the shelves. In Beijing, giggling librarians insisted on taking Polaroid snapshots of Weiner holding their copy of The Webster's New World Dictionary.

"My favorite book is always my current one," says Weiner at his Miami Beach home, located just across the street from a waterfront mansion owned by Bee Gees member Robin Gibb. "Any book that goes through more than one edition is deemed successful. Fortunately, I don't have to live off my royalties."

A quick perusal of The Skinny locates surprising factoids, including some that indicate even insiders may misuse the jargon of their own industries. For example many editors, reporters and publishers refer to the nameplate on the front page of a newspaper as "the masthead," when it is more properly termed "the flag."

"Common usage changes," Weiner gently chides on page 26, "but the original and primary meaning of masthead is an area of a publication that indicates its name, details of ownership, and other information, and usually appears on the editorial or contents page, not atop page one."

An early start

A native of Brooklyn, Weiner was born in 1927, the same month Charles Lindbergh made his solo flight across the Atlantic. He started writing in grade school, served as the editor of his high school paper, and worked as a radio broadcaster while attending the University of Wisconsin.

"I planned to be the next Edward R. Murrow," Weiner says.

Instead, he moved to New York for a long career in public relations, becoming a partner at Ruder Finn, the international advertising and PR firm, before leaving to start his own company in 1968.

Weiner's operation grew to 90 employees and boasted its most high-profile success in the mid-1980s campaign for the Cabbage Patch Kids. Weiner sold the company to Omnicon, after which he devoted himself to writing, lecturing and teaching.

With a communications career spanning parts of six decades, Weiner claims a privileged vantage point to survey the enormous changes he's seen, especially during the past 20 years. He speaks in expert detail of the three biggest changes he expects to influence the near future: blogs, the increasing sophistication of self-published books, and the emergence of multimedia.

"In the multimedia age your competition is all other media," Weiner says. "You're competing for time and attention, and people have so many choices. No one could possibly access all the media you might be interested in. You can watch TV or go to movies or surf the web, listen to satellite radio, tune into podcasts. You start surfing the web and the whole day could go by. You could spend hours on Wikipedia alone."

That's why, from here on out, all media, Weiner says, will be multimedia -- beginning with newspapers.

"Newspapers now all have online editions," he says. "Throughout the print editions you'll find references to audio or pictures or other information found only online. And only one paper, The Wall Street Journal, charges for access to online content. Everyone else gives it away free as a means to attract advertisers or to keep up with the competition."

Magazines, TV channels and radio stations likewise have Web sites. Weiner recently appeared on WGN radio in Chicago; afterward, the producer took photos of Weiner, his daughter and grandchildren, who happened to be in attendance, and posted them on the station's Web page.

"People love this kind of behind-the-scenes stuff," Weiner says. "They listen to a drive-time show and then go on the Web site to see what people look like and learn more about the subject under discussions. WGN has a terrific Internet site."

The long view

While the newspaper industry is in a bit of a confused funk at the moment -- Wall Street, especially, seems to have little faith in its ability to adapt to new technology -- Weiner has no doubt traditional daily journalism will exist far into the future. The same is true, he says, for traditional books and magazines.

"I think we're more likely to see something like what happened when TV first came out," Weiner says. "A lot of movie theaters closed, there were predictions of the end of the industry. But the movie business bounced back and now it's bigger than ever. Not in terms of the numbers of movies, but in terms of gross income and profits. Same with radio. It's bigger than ever."

Nonetheless, Weiner says advances in technology are not without their downside.

"For one thing, everything is speeded up, so young people, especially, have become semi-literate in their e-mail," Weiner says. "They knock out a message via computer or BlackBerry and don't proof it. That's my major complaint, because that kind of sloppiness will cross over into print."

Some realms of the mediaverse are absent or underrepresented in The Skinny, including porn jargon, which crops up with increasing frequency in mainstream TV shows and movies, especially comedies. But beyond "skin mag" or "skin flick," you won't find them in Weiner's book.

"I had several chapters that Random House deleted, for various reasons," Weiner says. "One was a chapter on Yiddish words that are used in the media and everyday conversation, including maven, mensch, bagel and mazel tov. I also had a chapter on money, including money shot. I could write a chapter on teen slang but it might be `so yesterday.'"

Weiner's first book, The Professional's Guide to Public Relations Service, came out in 1968. As long as he remains healthy, he plans to continue writing and speaking; he's already scheduled for the Miami Book Fair in November.

"My neighbor just died," he says. "She was 102. I don't know how to golf or play tennis. I didn't write this book in hopes of buying the Bee Gees' house across the street. My vocation and my avocation has been writing since I was 8 years old. I write because it's what I do."

WHAT'S THE SKINNY?

  • Skinny: Inside information, originally in sports journalism.
  • Best boy: Gaffer's apprentice.
  • Gaffer: Electrician.
  • Foley artist: Sound-effects specialist.
  • Walla-walla: Sound made by extras to mimic background conversation.
  • Back matter: Appendix, glossary, bibliography, index or other material at the end of a book.
  • Actuality: A live or taped broadcast from a news scene, including both reporter and anchor.
  • Blueline: Magazine proofs.
  • Advertorial: An ad written in an editorial (news) style.
  • Parquet: Orchestra; main floor of a theater.
  • Dutchman: A device to conceal a defect, gap or poor workmanship in a stage set.
  • Crix: Slang, peculiar to Variety, the showbiz weekly, meaning "critics."
  • Sidebar: Incidental information inserted within, adjacent to, or following, a related article (this is a sidebar).
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