A few years ago, the editor of my ex-newspaper had a big idea: We were going to make our obituaries super-duper. No longer would they be printed in itty-bitty type — the No. 1 complaint among its target audience, old people — and no longer would they be held to a strict content code. If you wanted to say Grampa didn’t “die” but “was called home to Jesus,” well, you could. (Within reason.) You could also say he loved bowling and fishing. If his legal name was Roberto but everyone in the world called him Bobo, you could call him Bobo. The pictures got bigger. The obits did, too. Frankly, they threatened to take over the metro section, but I will give the editor this: They were very popular. And they were free, a longstanding tradition in our paper, pretty rare in newspapering above the small-town level.
The problem with newspapers is, the readership is aging. The average newspaper reader is now about 106, and gaining two years every three months or so. Editors have slain whole forests just for the paper to exchange memos on how to appeal to younger people. (They all boil down to, “Let’s run more stories about pop music.”)
So when we instituted the New and Improved Obits, it was… a signal of sorts. Not that we’d given up, exactly, but that we’d made peace with an inescapable reality. We were going to wow the nursing homes.
The new obits lasted a few years, but couldn’t survive the terrible swift sword of cost-cutting. The last publisher shrunk them back to their previous size, turned them over to the ad department and, inevitably, started charging for them. (This was dressed up and presented to readers as a huge improvement. Astonishingly, letters to the editor revealed they weren’t buying that line of crap. Good for you, readers!)
My old paper must be accepting reality again. They recently expanded The Rant, a one-paragraph, anonymous sound-off bitchfest, to a daily feature. It’s like eavesdropping in the sunroom of death’s waiting room.
I used to read the Rant aloud on Neighbors day. I do this old-person voice, and I could always find the Rants that came from old people, usually because they said so up front:
I don’t like the city’s plan for the new larger trash containers. I’m a senior and I can’t lug these heavy containers to the curb. Why doesn’t anyone think of us? (There’s a whiny sort of old person you’d just like to slap, isn’t there? “Go read about pop music!” you want to tell them.)
Why do we have to look at obscene bumper stickers on an increasing number of vehicles? They are most offensive, but one cannot avoid observing them when they are on the vehicle in front of you.
I think there’s a new strain in the Rant lately — the Whiny Mommy. You know these women, the ones who stay home with their kids and wonder why the Nobel committee hasn’t stopped by with their medal yet. What’s worse, they suspect it will NEVER HAPPEN, and boy does that piss them off. You can spot them by their incessant, Santorum-like use of the word ‘family”:
People need to stop speaking disparagingly of families that drive SUVs � a definition that has become meaningless as people define smaller and smaller vehicles that happen to be boxy as SUVs.
Some Rants spark others: Someone complained in a recent Rant that it�s not proper to disclose in Business Monday the sale amount of real estate transactions. Well, you better be glad you live in Fort Wayne because in Springfield, Ohio, that�s normal. Everybody knows what everybody paid for their house, who bought it and all of that.
Some people nurse their Rants all day, waiting to get home to bitch about them: The sun hits the Wells Fargo ATM screen located in front of Kohl�s at State Road 37. I have to get out of my car to block the sun to see the screen. What�s the point of a drive-thru if you can�t see the screen?
I’m beginning to think they ought to add a line to the masthead: “Now indulging the self-pitying, daily.”
I hate Red Delicious apples (except for those just picked from the tree) and have ever since I notice how much they suck. The WashPost explains why.
I don’t care what anyone says, this Robert Novak story is a stitch. Wonkette has a roundup.
And meanwhile, if you really want to know how to run a newspaper, I think Hank has some great ideas.
Have a good weekend.