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Stunts

Everyone who reads journalism—I include electronic versions, published by newspapers or not—knows that journalists have a serious weakness for trivial stories and non-stories. It’s ninety-eight degrees, with humidity that is both palpable and visible, and the newspaper or website will inform you, prominently, that it’s hot outside. Stunning. Then there is the annual discovery that it gets cold in the winter.

But at least those efforts, feeble as they are, contain a trace of substance. If it’s going to be as cold as a corporate vice president’s heart out there, you’ll know to bundle up. And they help fuel our need for desultory, time-filling social conversation. “Did you see the paper this morning? Going to be a scorcher out there.”

Then there are stories that are merely stunts. Truly meaningless stories that, because they occur with regularity and are the lowest of low-hanging fruit, are irresistible to writers and editors without imagination.

There is the seasonal article about the estimated cost of purchasing the gifts enumerated in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Someone at PNC Bank, for which this is a publicity stunt, looks at “Twelve lords a-leaping” and makes a fanciful estimate of how much it costs the rent the British aristocracy these days. Utterly bogus and, truth be told, not particularly entertaining.

There are the annual college rankings by U.S. News, which, pathetically, has become crucial to universities’ recruiting. Only a few recognize the highly questionable methodology and refuse to participate. It’s highly unlikely that any university changes very dramatically year to year (“We just hired an assistant professor of economics, and eighty percent of our undergraduate courses are taught by teaching assistants and underpaid adjuncts whom we never observe in the classroom!”), so the changes in rankings year to year have to be accounted for by shifts of social status and superstition. But it does boost sales for the faltering U.S. News.

Today, one of the most venerable stunts of all, Time’s Person of the Year, is upon us. No, if you don’t already know, I’m not going to break the exciting news here. I don’t care. Probably neither do you. It’s a tired stunt, which may have looked fresh in 1927, by another publication in decline. In recent years the person of the year hasn’t even been a person, but an attempt to pin a sociological label on the year. Remember when it was You? Remember which year that was? Neither do I.

Such stuff is of even less moment than articles about the Kardashians.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:37 AM | | Comments (4)
        

Comments

It is a stunt, and I agree with you that it looks like the frantic waving (or is that dancing) of a publication in decline, clinging to relevance. I won't miss it if it goes away. I certainly won't miss Newsweek.

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones at a "publication in decline."

Prof. McI.,

Hmm........ might that Time magazine's 'Year of You' be the year, some decades past, where in their attempt to be oh-so-clever, they actually printed a kind of mylar-like reflective faux mirrored cover, and when whomever gave said cover a direct, close gander.......viola!, their quizzical mug would magically appear?

Up till that momentous point in popular news journalism's long run , for the average Joe, getting on the cover of the Rolling Stone was the biggest deal in the pop culture print landscape.

Frankly, Time's annual 'Person of the Year' pick is about as momentous, or culturally relevant, as say People mag's choice of their handsomest dude on the planet. (The suspense for their annual announcement is killing.......... not.)

READER ALERT: I'm going to reveal Time's 'Person of the Year' for 2011........ who isn't technically even a singular person, but as you, dear professor earlier pointed out, is more a case of putting "a sociological label on the year."

You folks will find out soon enough, so collectively let's just release that bated breath.

Drum roll............It's that man-for-all-seasons-of-global-grassroots-discontent , "The Protester". (Say what?)

Now if Time magazines' ace journalists had narrowed down their ultimate choice to say that most courageous, young Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouzizi, who set himself ablaze in protest of those town government officials who constantly harassed him, and ultimately confiscated his weighing scale, I would have no quarrel w/ their selection.

This humble Tunisian man's ultimate sacrifice, his own life, essentially sparked
what has become known in the mainstream media as 2011's Arab Spring movement that has mushroomed from this singular incident of unintended martyrdom into a mass populist groundswell of political/ social change in the Middle East. Bouziz act of desperation was the catalyst for this entire peoples' revolution in the Middle East, so in my view, he should have worn the mantel of Time's 'Person of the Year'.

Can you believe no-talent Kim Kardashian finished a close second for Time's POY? (Just joshing.)

Actually a motley mix of four took that dubious honor----- GOP House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, Chinese artist/ political activist, Ai Weiwei, William McRaven (Head of U.S. Joint Special Operations Command who killed Bin Laden), and last but hardly least, sweet, now-with-child, Kate Middleton.

I guess runner-up ain't so bad, in a fairly meaningless enterprise.

That cover of the Rolling stone is looking awfully good these days.

I'd be content w/ Mad Magazine, sharing the space w/ the the ageless Alfred E. Newman.

"What? Me worry?"

ALEX

P.S.: ------Big news, and major internal rumblings on the print newspaper front here in the City of Angels, today. The editor-in-chief of the L.A. Times for the past four years , Russ Stanton, has opted to step down (that's his story), and as of Dec.23rd will have been replaced by the incoming new editor-in-chief, current Managing Editor at the venerable daily, Davan Maharaj.

My close buddy who works as a copy editor at The Times happened to be on a one work-week obligatory vacation this week, but claimed he kind of saw the writing on the wall, and wasn't that surprised at the change in command when he got wind of it from his colleagues via smart phone.

Rank-and-file at the paper are very nervous about the status of their jobs going into the new year, as budgets are being trimmed, sections of the paper are consolidated, or tightened, etc., etc. ............. you newspaper journey-persons know the drill.

Stay tuned.

I have to say I always remember the Time 2006 person of the year... mainly because I saw it on a resume a couple years ago. At the bottom of the resume was a section 'Awards' with the entry 'Time Person of the Year (2006)'.

That was, of course, the year they chose the silly, maddening 'You'.

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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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