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Neither a bore nor a pander be

Christopher K. Sopher, writing at NiemanJournalismLab, thinks that news organizations have the potential to reach a vast audience of younger consumers interested in local, national, and international issues.

If.

If news organizations can stop condescending to this potential audience by stereotyping its members. And if—this is where Mr. Sopher really caught my attention—they can get away from the “boring or fluffy” mind set, which he describes thus:

Most sectors of journalism thought have rejected the bimodal theory of news: either it’s inherently boring but deeply important (town council minutes) or entertaining but inane (Lindsey Lohan updates). Yet for some reason the assumption of bifurcation continues to pervade news outlets’ discussion of young people: Journalist types implore young people to eat more broccoli, while most news organizations’ efforts to reach young people assume they’re only interested in candy.

Actually, it is not just for young people that this attitude prevails in news organizations. It’s also the thinking, if that is the word, in the approach to older readers. We still get appallingly tedious dump-the-whole-notebook-without-getting-to-the-point articles because they are about important subjects (meetings and reports that were easy to cover).

As for inanity, well, look at the offerings on the main page of CNN, which tells us that it is the serious news site. “Cougars on the prowl? Maybe not” (Older-woman cougars, not big cats.) “’True Blood’ stars tie the knot” (“Tie the knot,” what a clever and original way to say “marry.”) “Aniston, Jon Stewart recall date” “Blagojevich won’t rule out comeback” “Animal-shaped cities planned”

I think that Mr. Sopher is on to something, that there may be an audience for journalism that is serious, clear, and focused.* For frivolity, too, so long as it is not obvious and cheap. (Maybe leave Ms. Aniston’s slender talent to the movie reviews and her tangled private life to herself?) Maybe if someone would try it, we could see whether it would work.

 

*Articles generally get clear and focused by an antiquated process known as editing.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 2:58 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Comments

Do you think that, in an attempt to appeal to younger readers, online sites are forgoing the editing process because they believe a younger audience won't notice or doesn't care about grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc?

(BTW, it's LindsAy Lohan. I obviously spend too much time reading celeb gossip online.)

I think editing has been eighty-sixed out of a belief that nobody except for a few elderly cranks, cares about grammar, accuracy, and clarity.

My God. Have you had a look at baltimoresun.com recently? You can't be serious that it's about "journalism that is serious, clear, and focused"?
The paper version is even more disconnected from the continuum of reality--all wire/syndicate copy on the weekends? Really?

"I think editing has been eighty-sixed out of a belief that nobody except for a few elderly cranks, cares about grammar, accuracy, and clarity."

Do you believe anyone thought that much about it? It was probably closer to "We can sell just as many papers either way, and accuracy is expensive."

Mencken once claimed that no editor had ever complained because his paper was too well edited; perhaps his Sun has now proven him wrong.

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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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