Michael Kinsley is way off his rocker in this wonderful attack on journalismisms:
One reason seekers of news are abandoning print newspapers for the Internet has nothing directly to do with technology. It's that newspaper articles are too long. On the Internet, news articles get to the point. Newspaper writing, by contrast, is encrusted with conventions that don't add to your understanding of the news. Newspaper writers are not to blame. These conventions are traditional, even mandatory.
Among the encrustations is the literary habit that did more to make me stop reading newspapers and magazines than any other—the before-the-jump novelistic cliffhanger:
The revolt against pyramid style is also why you get those you'll-never-guess-what-this-is-about, faux-mystery narrative leads about Martha Lewis, a 57-year-old retired nurse, who was sitting in her living room one day last month watching Oprah when the FedEx delivery man rang her doorbell with an innocent-looking envelope … and so on. (The popularity of this device is puzzling, since the headline—"Oprah Arrested in FedEx Anthrax Plot"—generally gives the story away.)
Kinsley makes the case that news stories should not even quote statements from relevant officials:
The Times piece, by contrast, waits until the third paragraph to quote Representative George Miller, who said, "This is our moment to revolutionize health care in this country." That is undeniably true. If there was ever a moment to revolutionize health care, it would be the moment when legislation revolutionizing health care has just passed. But is this news? Did anybody say to anybody else, "Wait'll you hear what George Miller just said"? The quote is 11 words, while identifying Miller takes 16.
Even more daring is the argument against historical context:
Who needs to be reminded that Hillary Clinton tried [health care reform] in her husband's administration without success? Anybody who doesn't know these things already is unlikely to care. (Is, in fact, unlikely to be reading the article.)
How about anybody who is 25 right now, and would have been all of nine when the Hillary Clinton/Ira Magaziner health care overhaul failed? If Kinsley is suggesting that all journalism should be done without glosses or context-fillers, with no effort to help the reader with relevant data, well, that's actually a pretty cool suggestion. I'm not sure that's what he's suggesting.
The beauty part is that all these suggestions are completely defensible. I'm sure George Miller has a Twitter feed I can go to for health care huzzahs. Novelistic journalism is a third- or fourth-generation mutation, and nobody but the writers would miss it. And who needs ancient history from the Clinton era?
Is The New York Times in fact getting pwned online because of these writing defects? The Times should probably be concerned that its Alexa ranking of 101 puts it behind CNN, BBC, CNET, LiveJournal, and all major social media sites. But it's way ahead of wsj.com at 299, washingtonpost.com at 378, and latimes.com at 408. And drudgereport.com trails all these domains at 528.
Now I'm not sure what Alexa rankings mean anymore in this tweeted-up, texted-up, shook-up world. But it's not clear any effort at Strunk and White-style directness would have led to a better outcome for the print media. If anything's striking in the history of newspapers' sad encounter with new media, it is the way big papers managed, almost literally in their sleep, to attract roughly the same relative amount of mindshare online that they had in print.
More fun with journalismisms.
Courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily.