I usually try to avoid media criticism on this blog. But this morning’s A1 lead feature in the Washington Post was too puzzling to go unremarked upon.
The article, by the usually–competent Paul Schwartzman, is cast as an overview of the city’s changes over the last four years. There was a development boom that changed lots of things! Then there was a real estate crash! D.C. didn’t get hit as bad as the rest of the country, though, because there’s always the federal government. And after all that, D.C. residents feel optimistic.
Reading the piece, I kept looking for some new fact, or even some shred of original analysis, that would justify its prominent placement. Nothing arrived, except the most banal and obvious quotes by various men and women on the street, as well as all-purpose commentator Steve Fuller of George Mason University. What was the point, Post editors? Was this a rainy day story that you kept in reserve in case something big fell through?
Perhaps it was—meeting deadline’s a bitch. More than this one article, though, what bugs me is the larger shift in professional journalism towards writing about how people feel. Newspapers are hiring fewer reporters and more “community engagement editors” in charge of putting the popular psyche on display, almost out of a sense of insecurity that they’ll lose your attention unless you get the chance to participate.
I really just think this is a waste of reportorial resources. There will always be a place for the human interest story, about a particular person or group going through circumstances that are compelling, if not broadly significant. But trying to extrapolate the feelings of a whole population with a vague poll question or a few random interviews is a much more futile and useless endeavor. Increasingly, the Post tries to get closer to its audience by doing these stories about things a friend might say to another friend (Columbia Heights hipsters are conflicted about Target!) which end up telling us nothing we didn’t already know.
It’s not that I don’t care about how you feel, dear readers. I’m just operating on the assumption—or at least the hope—that you’d rather I write about things that are happening, and let you feel how you will about them, without trying to boil those many feelings down into a headline.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.