Reading is optional
A couple of days ago this exchange was reported in Overheard in the Newsroom:
Reporter 1, complaining about a story she was assigned to write: “I wouldn’t read this story.”
Reporter 2: “Sometimes you need to accept that not all stories are there to be read.”
Reporter 2 has identified a curious circumstance about newspaper publishing. Though the laity may imagine that editors choose to publish articles out of a belief that the audience will find them interesting enough to read, that is not necessarily the case. Other considerations may take precedence.
There is the Broccoli story, published not because it is readable or relevant to the reader, but because it is an Important Story that the reader Ought To Know About.
There is the Story of Record, largely devoid of interest but published because “we have to show that we noticed it.”
There is the Bespoke story, ordered up on a whim by some potentate, such as when an Important Person gets held up in traffic or gets approached by a panhandler and decides, in a staggering illumination, that the paper ought to write something about that. And the impotentates on the staff are charged with delivering it.
There is the Shelf Life story, which has lingered on the budget for days, perhaps weeks, without anyone showing a flicker of interest, until the weekend approaches and someone says, “We’ll burn that one off on Monday.” (Monday is a day when readership is typically low.)
There is the Nine Months Wonder, the major project on which a reporter, or team of reporters, has labored for a protracted time. No matter that the prose of the result is denser than uranium and the point, if it exists, is more difficult to determine than the current location of Judge Joseph Force Crater, if the paper has paid reporters’ wages for x weeks or months on this story, it is, by God, going to see print.
And finally there is the Page Eight story: “We have a hole on Page 8, and we don’t have anything else to put there.”