Two newspapers, same story. First headline:
DaimlerChrysler more than doubles first-quarter profits to $2.6 billion
Chrysler loss near $2 billion, mostly on restructuring
Both headlines are accurate. The first reports profits for the DaimlerChrysler Corp., the second for just the Chrysler group, a subtlety that may be missed before your morning coffee. Not that anyone gets both papers anymore, it’s just amusing in a wry, bitter kind of way. It kind of reminds me of the period at my old newspaper in which unemployment numbers were reported as employment numbers. Six percent weren’t out of work, 94 percent had jobs! Always look on the bright side of life, as the crucified man said.
If that seems like a really stupid way to report the news — 250,000 Metro Toddlers Not Mauled By Pit Bulls Today — well, join the club. Someday I’m going to write something about my experience working in journalism’s minor leagues. All those years have to be worth something. It’ll have to be fiction, since most of it is so unbelievable in the first place. Who, for instance, would swallow the idea that an editor could seize upon highlighting — yes, yellow bars of color over significant blocks of text, the way you marked up “Silas Marner” in high school — as a way to serve readers? This was an idea an editor of mine had during the grim years in the ’80s when we kept getting readership studies that people were spending less and less time with us; at that time the figure was something like 17 minutes. The editor thought, OK, if you only have 17 minutes, we’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version.
The bosses liked the idea enough to print up a few dozen copies and run it past a focus group, where it flopped like a fat kid off the high board. The papers were gathered up and destroyed, and one of my great regrets is that I didn’t steal a copy for posterity. But I saw one, I swear I did, just like Winston Smith with that newspaper photo in “1984.” Part of the problem was that newspaper stories, written well, should essentially be the highlighted version of events. We don’t write about what the city council members were wearing, or the pleasantries they exchanged, or the jokes they made about the weather, all of which you can get on the local-government cable channel. We report the important stuff that happened, i.e., the highlights. And the standard inverted-pyramid style, with the important stuff in the top few paragraphs, is a form of highlighting in and of itself; you always write a story knowing that most people will only read part of it.
But the highlighted version we gave them was different. (I may have a highlighted-text tool in my HTML editor, but if so I can’t figure it out, and I’m not going to call my web guy and bug him about it. Just imagine the bold words are highlighted.) It ran kind of like this:
City Council passed a sweeping anti-smoking ordinance at their Monday-night meeting, in front of a boisterous crowd more suited to a football game than a government meeting. Supporters cheered, and opponents jeered, as the council voted 7-2 in favor of the measure, which bans smoking in most indoor public places, including bars and restaurants.
I suggested if we were going to do that, then maybe we should go all the way and write our stories like those ads you used to see on buses and in the back of Seventeen magazine: If u cn rd ths msj, u cn bcm a sec nd gt a gd jb. Talk about your bold measures! For some reason, no one liked this idea. I never was management material.
Oh, well. We went down swinging, even if we didn’t land too many punches.
I was going to give you some tasty bloggage today, but my husband just walked into the room and said, “Oh. Hey. Happy anniversary.”
For the first time ever, I’d forgotten about it, too. In case you’re wondering, it’s 14 blissful years since we were joined together by a gay Methodist preacher in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. If that strikes you as a lousy place for a wedding, you weren’t there. (I forget what exhibit was hanging in the gallery where we did the deed, but I do remember Alan checking on it, because it was preceded by a photography show — self-portraits of some woman with colon cancer, featuring her colostomy bag. That might have sent us to a nice park somewhere.)
Anyway, happy anniversary to us. I’m knocking off early.
Kirk said on May 15, 2007 at 8:42 am
Happy anniversary, Nance. I remember it as if it were yesterday. The smoked salmon was mighty fine.
John said on May 15, 2007 at 8:54 am
Happy Anniversary and many more!
Dorothy said on May 15, 2007 at 9:19 am
Happy Anniversary kids! Tis the season for forgetting dates. I was falling asleep last night and opened one eye and said “Oh son of a bitch!” I forgot to send a card to my nephew Eli, who turns 20 on Thursday and is Mike’s godson. Well, it’ll be late. But at least I remembered.
ashley said on May 15, 2007 at 9:20 am
Oh good God. It’s our 8th anniversary today (the church wedding, not the INS wedding). And Nance, this bloggage was doubleplusgood.
brian stouder said on May 15, 2007 at 10:04 am
The two headlines are pretty funny. Presumeably whole semesters in J-school are devoted to defining what really constitutes “news”. Defining it appears to be a challenge similar to defining pornography – a sort of “I know it when I see it” deal.
Cannot help but agree that ‘news’ that consciously strives to accentuate the positive is a fundamental breach of faith; whereas the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ mindset has the advantage that really, that IS the natural way of things (if there is a wreck on the freeway, passersby will be drawn to look, and to wonder what happened, and to listen to the news when that story comes up; and if there is a very pleasant patch of wildflowers nearby, people blithely motor past them, with maybe a glance here or there)
Happy Anniversary! We hit #14 in March, and went to Eddie Merlot for dinner (the Prime Rib Eye Oscar style was magnificent!)
Danny said on May 15, 2007 at 10:22 am
Bonne Anniversaire. We have our 9th in two weeks.
A coworker’s wife passed away this weekend. It’s a sad time. He is nearing retirement and .. well, now she won’t be there with him. A lot of us went home and hugged our spouses a little tighter last night.
LA mary said on May 15, 2007 at 10:26 am
Happy Anniversary. If you need a sitter for Kate so you can go out and celebrate, give me a call.
WP Denver said on May 15, 2007 at 11:43 am
Happy anniversary. I remember those “Speedwriting” ads from the buses. The ones we saw here usually ended with “gt a gd jb + mo pa.” Guess they now call it “text messaging.”
colleen said on May 15, 2007 at 11:59 am
Happy Anniversary! Got any wedding pix to share? I love those.
Dorothy said on May 15, 2007 at 12:47 pm
Oh my gosh – Jerry Fallwell is dead! This is like the best news I’ve heard in forever. Does that make me as bad as him? I sure hope not. He was a nasty bugger.
LA mary said on May 15, 2007 at 12:53 pm
I’m with you Dorothy. I think Pat Robertson is more nasty, but not much. Remeber those two smirking and saying 9/11 was punishment from God for tolerating gays and abortion?
Kirk said on May 15, 2007 at 1:16 pm
To honor his memory, please remove your hat and join us in a moment of canned laughter.
Dorothy said on May 15, 2007 at 1:21 pm
What’s sort of weird is, my husband had interviewed about a month ago for a job in Lynchburg. Then he had the interview at Rolls Royce. The Lynchburg company took forever to get back to him, and when they did call to offer him the job, he had already accepted. I had misgivings about moving to Lynchburg because of Falwell, and the worry that too many people in the town would think like he did. I guess things worked out for the best for us, huh?
When I heard about Falwell I called my husband and he said “He probably heard we might be moving there and this is what happend to him. He was afraid of you!”
Dorothy said on May 15, 2007 at 1:21 pm
I mean he had already accepted the one at Rolls Royce.
LA mary said on May 15, 2007 at 1:33 pm
I like the way his office said he had “heart challenges.” It’s good to see another fave of mine, Newt Gingrich, will be addressing the graduates of Jerry’s university. Remember that bumper sticker, “The Moral Majority is neither?”
nancy said on May 15, 2007 at 1:36 pm
And Tammy Faye outlasted him. She always said he was behind their disgrace, in a Machiavellian move to get his mitts on Heritage USA.
ashley said on May 15, 2007 at 1:38 pm
But Jerry Falwell couldn’t do 2000 pound leg-presses. At least, unlike Robertson, Falwell didn’t say that Katrina and the resulting federal flood was God’s vengeance on New Orleans.
LA mary said on May 15, 2007 at 1:39 pm
Larry Flynt outlasted him too.
LA mary said on May 15, 2007 at 1:55 pm
Ashley, he probably wanted to say that but Pat said it first and he didn’t want to sound me-tooish. He was waiting for some other natural disaster to latch on to.
brian stouder said on May 15, 2007 at 1:55 pm
She always said he was behind their disgrace, in a Machiavellian move to get his mitts on Heritage USA.
Oh for pity’s sake!
That is about one scintilla more convincing than “the Devil made me do it!”
Did Jerry sic Jessica Hahn onto Jim Bakker?
For the record, Falwell ain’t one of my heroes, either….but I’m trying to think of a successful leftist organizer/wire-puller/power broker who would get me to engage in this sort of gleeful grave-dancing, and I cannot think of one.
Jesse Jackson? Nope. Whatever else Jackson is, he strikes me as sincere. James Carville? nahhh – his gleefulness cuts lots of ice. Bill Clinton? Actually, I can’t help but like that guy.
Just by way of saying – a second thought might be a good thing….maybe even a first thought
michaelj said on May 15, 2007 at 2:28 pm
I’m annoyed by Falwell’s just up and dying like that. He gets a pass on the temporal embarrassment of not being Rapturized. No public confessions of lust or crank, no 700-foot Jesus. Sur;y guilty of federal mail fraud to the tune of millions, but, like Kennyboy, beyond the retribution of the hoi polloi he swindled.
In my pre-Cambrian J-School days, some newspaper chain actually tried the highlighting gimmick. My news writing professor said he thought it was a great idea, so long as the lede was red, and the rest of the piece descended through orange, yellow, etc. down to beige, gray and invisible. Imagine my amusement when Homeland Security Terrism Watch came along.
Isn’t this really a case of an idea birthed before its time? Now we’ve got Power Point, the apparent operative mechanism for the entire federal bureaucracy and militaary-industrial menage. Doesn’t always work, sadly, as with the half -page, all-caps, hair-on-fire PDB regarding AIRPLANES! and BUILDINGS! Some people need Cliff’s Notes for their Cliff’s Notes, boiled down to the Masterplots version. Even with the neurotransmitter reinforcement, the message can still get jumbled by an old cocaine injury. Color coding couldn’t hurt.
Maybe there’s some merit to the idea of amping the salient points, given the current state of journalism. The Washington Post ran a story today headed A Casualty Of War: MySpace. I’m all for MySpace going away, but DoD’s virtual phone-jamming of lines of communication for troops in Iraq is pretty infuriating.
So some graphic equivalent of klaxons and alarums would be useful when this is buried in the 19th graf:
The Defense Department barred access to the Web sites even as the military has stepped up its campaign to upload official videos to the Web, including on YouTube, to help portray U.S. combat efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in a favorable light.
So troops’ lifelines to families take up bandwidth needed for military propaganda. Some readers who might feel that’s the real story may well have quit reading in disgust long before arriving halfway down the jump. Scarlet letters would trummp piss-yellow journalism.
Kim said on May 15, 2007 at 3:31 pm
I love how the obits are (not ironically) quoting Jerry, using the “I shudder to think where this world would be without the Moral Majority.” Yeah, me too. Hope he’s enjoying purgatory or the hot place.
Happy anniversary. 14 — what is that, replacement towels for the ones you got for the wedding? 14 has been so long ago I forget.
Dorothy said on May 15, 2007 at 3:53 pm
Fourteen is half my marriage ago. I think you’re right about the towels. Fourteen years ago this month my parents moved out of their big 7 bedroom house and into an apartment. Hey – I had my first kiss on that front porch!
Jay Small said on May 15, 2007 at 4:48 pm
Nancy, not only do I remember the highlighting experiment, I even remember that the test copies that were printed had the highlighting in powder blue — a consequence of our Gutenberg-era printing equipment back then. The extra color plate was added at the end of a press run, to save money. And that day, the color we had for A-section was process cyan.
So John S. had to take a piece of tissue paper, lay it over the newspaper page and highlight by hand. Then the engravers cut that process cyan down to a 20 percent screen, which, when laid over (or behind) 10-point body text, made the whole mess unreadable.
Focus groups complained it made the news harder to scan, not easier.
Connie said on May 15, 2007 at 5:13 pm
Hey, 14 is half my marriage ago too! And I did apologize to my office staff for letting out a cheer when the IT guy told me Falwell was dead.
And at management meeting we all decided we needed we needed the bumper sticker I saw: “Voldemart is a Republican!” Lightened up the effort of reviewing the proposed revisions on the evaluation form.
Danny said on May 15, 2007 at 5:39 pm
Well said, Brian.
Larry Flynt? “Yay, give us Barabbas.”
LA mary said on May 15, 2007 at 6:56 pm
Can’t wait to see who shows up at the funeral.
brian stouder said on May 15, 2007 at 8:16 pm
“Voldemart is a Republican!”
“Venom is a Democrat!”
Danny said on May 15, 2007 at 9:13 pm
Hey, anyone watching the NHL? I’m really pullling for the Senators to win it all. Looks like whoever makes it outta the Ducks-Redwings series is gonna be sore and tired. And I like the idea of the Cup being in Canada.
Nancy, you for the ‘Wings, you homer (I know you don’t care)? Ashley, Brian? You guys have an iron in this fire?
joodyb said on May 15, 2007 at 10:44 pm
Time flies when you’re really having fun! Happy anniversary.
brian stouder said on May 16, 2007 at 8:10 am
The hockey bug never bit me. I’ve gone to see the local team (the Komets) maybe 3 times – and sorta got the general idea of the attraction (lots of fluid back and forth, probes and parries, passes and checks into the boards, and then some fisticuffs) –
but other than that, it might as well be cricket
Dorothy said on May 16, 2007 at 1:11 pm
Voldemort is a better guy than Falwell.
brian stouder said on May 16, 2007 at 1:25 pm
And, Venom was never a flip-flopper…
ashley said on May 16, 2007 at 1:36 pm
Danny, I’ve been doing some horrid prognosticating on the Cup. I’m picking the Wings to get it all, simply because of the guy between the pipes.
Hasek is the second best goalie ever, behind only Tretiak. Before anyone brings out Roy, let me remind you of his last playoff game against Hasek. Roy lost 7-0.
If the Wings make it to the finals, they’ll either play the team Hasek played for last year that didn’t want him back (Ottawa), or the team where he led them to the brink of the cup and won 6 Vezinas (Buffalo). Either way, big story. With Buffalo’s play lately, don’t count on the Sabres making it.
Danny said on May 16, 2007 at 2:03 pm
I know. I’ve been doing apretty poor job of picking too. The Ducks! I mean 5 to zip. What was that? Geesh.
MichaelG said on May 16, 2007 at 7:54 pm
Happy Anniversary, Nancy! Sorry to be late. I’ve been out of town the last couple of days.
Bill Compton said on June 4, 2007 at 6:04 pm
Hi Jim. Photos i received. Thanks