Journalism or something like it

6 09 2007

The Times ran this story a few days ago:

The next question isn’t about the expiration date of 9/11 tributes. It’s about whether, really, that this is even a question. Did people start questioning such a thing before a New York Times reporter started asking them about it? Certainly, it’s a possibility. But is this a story?

This is where we get our truths, through trend stories mined from empty fields: a story like this is the equivalent of fool’s gold. It glistens like something real, but under inspection, its blemishes overwhelm the sheen. But newswriting, trend writing specifically, inheres a bit of lay magic — the ability and willingness to create, from nothing, something.

Such spontaneous generation requires the assistance of props. Writers exonerate themselves from responsibility with the employ of words like ‘many’ or ‘some,’ fatally vague quantifiers that don’t actually, really, mean anything. Of course ‘some’ people are tired of 9/11 ceremonies. Some people are also tired of hearing the Beatles or eating buffalo wings. ‘Many’ people don’t like to shower. But these collective words are cop-outs. They rely on the generosity of language to turn what is merely a writer’s preconception into a story with whispers of fact.

The crafting of trend stories requires asking just the right questions to elicit responses that, ostensibly, support the claim.  And if not the right questions, then the correct editing to condense long, multi-textured quotes into vignettes that contort the intended message.

But, then again, would that be a story at all? Or just a collection of nebulously connected points? A story is, after all, a line of best fit. And that’s the beauty of it: every instance, every moment involves myriad possibilities for a story. When we only had a few news sources, we were restricted to a few. Now, however, the democratization of media has given us access to more — perhaps infinite — angles. And that’s a pretty cool thing.




One response

11 09 2007
The Day « Dispatches from the Lower East Side

[…] Standard had a problem (doesn’t it always?) with the Times’ pre-emptive 9/11 story, much like I did, pointing out that it’s probably very unlikely that most (or even a significant amount of) […]

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