Articles of faith
Newspapers accumulate any number of unexamined practices. Some things they do because they have always done them. Some things they do because some consultant or other charlatan arrived with a Big Idea. (Sometimes it’s the Big Guy’s inspiration, and you’ve seen the fate of those who fail to leap to it with enthusiasm.) Some things they do because they actually credited what someone in a focus group said. The common element is that these practices are almost never subjected to skeptical inquiry or objective testing. They are merely supplanted by other unsound practices.
What brought this to mind was a passage in H.L. Mencken’s Newspaper Days, which has been reprinted by the Johns Hopkins University Press. He describes one such article of faith and his response to it after he was named Sunday editor of the Herald in 1901:
One of the worst relics of a more innocent day was a full page of fraternal order news — supplied free by the secretaries of the various lodges, but so badly written that copy-reading it was a heavy chore. The theory in the office was that this balderdash made circulation — that all the joiners of the town searched it every Sunday morning for their own names. This seemed to me to be bad reasoning, for any given joiner was bound to be disappointed nine Sundays out of ten. One Sunday I quietly dropped the page — and not a single protest came in.
No doubt many of you in what used to be called the newspaper game [sardonic chuckle] are aware of comparable wastes of time, energy and newsprint on equally dubious enterprises in your shops. I invite you to contribute your own examples of articles of faith — secure in the knowledge that I will protect your anonymity in the comments section.