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More is written than read

I used to listen to graduate students in the writing program at Syracuse bewail the Poetry Crisis — that more people appeared to be writing and publishing poetry than were reading it. Thirty years later, that looks to be still the case.

The poets, of course, have only themselves to blame. Many of them embraced the tenets of high Modernism, that poetry was to be written for a sophisticated elite, and the broader audience wandered off. Poetry that has to be learned to be appreciated is like a properly constructed martini: a minority taste.

It’s not just the poets who are manufacturing more than is consumed. So are journalists — and let’s not even mention bloggers.

At newspapers with a unionized work force, reporters typically have the right to withhold their bylines from articles. That give rise to the occasional byline strike, by which reporters bring management to its knees by withholding their names from their stories. You see, they imagine, bless their hearts, that readers pay attention to bylines.

It’s increasingly apparent that in addition to bylines, readers don’t pay much attention to stories. Newspapers can analyze readers’ behavior with the online product, discovering which stories readers look at and how long they spend with them, an analysis that would be humbling to many writers. It’s probably not much different for readers of the print product. suspect that the headlines written by my colleagues on the copy desk are frequently the only part of the stories that the audience actually reads before passing on.

Not long ago, The Sun incorporated the Sunday comic strips into the TV book, announcing this prominently Inevitably, readers called the newsroom wondering what had happened to the comics. In some cases, the persons taking the calls couldn’t answer. It’s discouraging to learn that the subscribers don’t pay much attention to the paper; it’s embarrassing to discover that the staff doesn’t, either.

But if you are a regular reader of this blog, it is manifest that you are a person of high intelligence and discerning taste.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 2:51 PM | | Comments (5)
        

Comments

Not long ago, The Sun incorporated the Sunday comic strips into the TV book, announcing this prominently..

Where was this announced? I am not a subscriber, having determined that my HS paper was better written than The Sun, the Sunday version of which is most assuredly not worth $2! If I walk over to the 7-11 for a paper, I get The Post, however, if I'm driving through the city on a Sunday morning, I buy a Sunpaper from one of the people standing on the median strip. It had been a month or so since my last Sunday Sun and my funnies were missing! It was only by accident that I found them. Not sure what the point of this change is, but I don't like it.

"Byline strike" ... cracks me up.

Regarding a properly constructed martini, I have a booklet of Conversion Factors ("To convert yards to feet = y x 3," etc.) that states: "To convert gin into martinis = 5g + 1v."

The worst part isn't that the comics are hidden in the TV section. The real problem is that to fit them into the tabloid format they made them too small to easily read.

Those of us in technical writing have to accept that our readers don't want to read us at all, and when they are obliged out of desperation to turn to our prose, they tend to do so with impatience, if not outright anger. It's a, um, bracing insight. And a challenging audience for which to write.

As for poetry, people love it. But they stopped getting it from academic poets long ago. So now they get it from songwriters, who completely own the genre of populist poetry.


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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