Two newspapers, same story. First headline:
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.