Sub-head with three lines.
Design, sometimes content, works
..doubles as haiku
By Brandon Smith
Note: This is a tirade masquerading as a front-page news article of this publication, supposedly one of the best college newspapers in America. If it truly is among the best in the country, the author guesses the American media will… remain exactly as it is now.
A typical Chronicle article usually starts with a hard news lead, something with commas, in wrong places, and unimportant details leading the way into what seems to be a blisteringly meaningless story.
The subject, followed by a comma and short description, continues to prove dull as nails. That’s because it was introduced with 3-4 dull facts and possibly some numbers with little to no context, in an attempt to lend legitimacy to the writer’s work. In fact that writer didn’t leave his or her $600 office chair all week.
“Here’s a quote because, with all that important—cough—information up there, surely we’ll be needing some color by now,” said Fake Person, Insert Excruciatingly Long Official Title Here. Unfortunately the quote was far from colorful.
Also, there’s no way Person makes less than $70,000 a year and has less than five people working under him. Power means awesomeness.
“This quote is generally either spoken in industry jargon or so hidden behind layers of public relations debriefings that its presence actually creates a void of meaning, a black hole in the page,” Person said.
And we continue on with platitudes from officials at Another Public Bureaucracy or Nepotistic School Office, which lets readers know that The Chronicle doesn’t ask the tough questions, let alone answer them. This graph is a paraphrase of a phone interview, but not a good one since the same euphemisms for unpopular actions are regurgitated forth for the readers.
Oh, here—here we have a tidbit of information that’s truly newsworthy, something on which a proper story could have hung. But for some reason it was buried in graph seven. Don’t count on it actually being discussed at length in the rest of the story, either.
Now would be the perfect time to feature comment from someone who might be affected by the new developments. Instead, the writer interviews the easy, so-called other-side-of-the-story. Unfortunately, an issue is nearly never made up of just two sides.
“Here’s a quote from me,” said Other Side, “even though my quotes should have been paraphrased—they’re straight facts that the writer could have checked elsewhere and simply attributed to me.”
If anyone is still reading at this point—and no, they’re not to blame because they’re “art students”—here’s some information that doesn’t seem to mesh with how the city actually works. Maybe the writer hasn’t lived here for very long. Or maybe she’s lived here all her life, but hadn’t previously been exposed to the stuff she’s covering. Fair enough, but that’s why we ask every possible question. In fact, that’s what we’re paid to do.
Note that the story does not include background on the subject that was brought to light by Other Chicago Media Organization earlier this year. Chronicle writers don’t consume much Chicago media.
“Here’s a great quote from a great source—someone who works intimately and daily with the issue at hand, and sees its effects,” said Awesome Guy, an employee with Such a Firm. Parts of his interview, if paraphrased, would have made a great nut graph, a section near the beginning of a story that gives the low-down of why something’s newsworthy.
Buried even further down are excruciatingly powerful details that, although described poorly, demonstrate something emotional and human. Such details are kept out of the lead possibly because this needs to sound like a newspaper, not some student-run fun house.
In the Chronicle’s attempt to sound more objective, it actually becomes less objective: the more officials it gives a voice to at the top, the less people who are not officials get to speak. The less emotion in the presentation, the less the public’s emotion is heard. And there’s a lot of emotion in this city. In this college, even.
This paper’s stated goal is to prepare students for the real world—supposedly more so than coursework in the journalism department does. The problem is that in the real world, you have to write about humans, about humanity. And institutions only in so far as they affect humanity.
Just as important, your readers have to like reading it. That doesn’t mean they “have fun” reading a piece, say, about poverty. But they have to feel like the writing is worthy of their time.
Last but not least in a typical Chronicle story, a response is allowed to be given by a representative of the academic or government bureaucracy who’s getting a high-dollar break on PR today. The response makes it seem like said bureaucracy is doing something, that some positive change is in the works. But not too precisely—because they’re saving money in that department as well.
Hell, they ought to pay The Chronicle. Oh wait, they do.