Fit to Print?

By Jeffrey Page

Certain decisions by people with loads of money and monumental pretensions cry out for comment. The same goes for decisions by news editors.

In the Styles section of The Sunday Times just past, we were offered a story about the wedding of a couple in Santa Barbara. He is 30. She is 29 and comes from a rich family; her father was executive producer and co-creator of some popular TV shows.

The reporter gave us 29 breathless and fairly vacuous paragraphs about how the happy couple met (through friends out for a drink), and how the woman found the man acceptable even though he wore a fanny pack (“I knew when his fanny pack didn’t bother me that this was the real thing”), and the fact that she is stylish and he once had worked on the Harvard Lampoon, and that their feelings for each other got warmer during his absence on a previously planned vacation.

Packed into those 29 paragraphs were 1,586 words of which 27 were: “It is not guaranteed but if a stylish woman forgives her date for wearing a fanny pack, all that follows can be pretty much considered a breeze.” This wedding story contained about double the number of words in a typical column by the great Maureen Dowd one of whose recent pieces contained 889 words of which 37 were: “Standing a few feet away from Jerry Sandusky, as he laughed and reminisced with friends in the front row of the courtroom, made me want to take a shower. Just not in the Penn State locker room.”

One of the two pictures accompanying the wedding story showed the newlyweds playing skeeball on two alleys, a little something the bride’s parents had installed when they redesigned their barn so it could be used for what Dad called “the cocktail part of the party.” They also moved a half-acre of earth to create a hill. They felt they needed a hill so the guests would have, in the reporter’s words, “stunning water views during the ceremony.”

The story reported that the bride had consulted “the family psychic” about whether the man was right for her and that the soothsayer’s response was “You know that you know that he’s the one,” which sounds suspiciously non-committal on the seer’s part.

The story took up two-thirds of the page. I know about story placement. I know that a wedding story, unless it’s William and Kate, doesn’t go on Page 1 and that a story about children dying violently doesn’t go in Styles. Some news that got short shrift on the day of the story of the wedding with the ocean view demand attention because their treatment made The Times look foolish.

–That same Sunday edition contained a 466-word story about two Lebanese people killed by shells fired from Syrian territory. One of the victims was a boy in the village of al-Hisheh. He was 8. His father and four siblings were injured. A woman was killed when a shell landed in her home.

–Officials in Myanmar freed 20 people whom they’d seized en route to a major demonstration with political overtones. This was told in 328 words.

–In New York, the police reported that six people had been slain in the last few days. In one case, a woman bludgeoned her son to death. He was 9. A man was shot to death in Bay Ridge with a bullet in his neck. He was 65. The other four dead were in the Bronx and Queens. The Times gave it 632 words.

That’s three life-and-death stories, not one of which involved building a hill so wedding guests could see the water.


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One Response to “Fit to Print?”

  1. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Well put, Jeff. The dumbing down of news media in our country has been more noticeable with TV news, but newspapers, even ones as prestigious as The NYT, have been following suit for a while now. (Yikes! I just noticed the ad I’m seeing under your post now: “Mitt Romney for President.” Can’t we do something about these danged ads….like maybe opt out of the ones we don’t want on our site?)

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