21 January 2006

All The News That's Fit To Print

The top three stories in ascending order in the January 21st web edition of the NYTimes are, iii) There's a lack of unity in Iraq(duh), ii) the federal government now wants to test high school kids, (shocking), and the number one lead story is....i) Efforts to uproot Al Quaeda in Pakistan are failing (really a reach to call that news, no?) I do not here bicker with the Times over the accuracy of those headlines ( now that I am retired, I lack the time to actually read the stories, I just scan the headlines) but I think it legitimate to ask questions about how the editors select the stories to cover in depth, and then decide what prominence to give them. Times editors have a tough time these days, working in a room with lifesize cutouts of Jayson Blair and Judith Miller hanging from the ceiling fans. (What, you say, that is not literally true? Well, I say, did I say it was? OTOH, if it is not literally true, surely it should be, non?)

I am here to help. Perhaps observing how others perform the editing task might of some value to those who bear the heavy burden running the newspaper of record. Surely its worth a few minutes of their time.

We have our own Newspaper Of Record, though its publishers are far too modest to print any sort of chest-thumping claim on the masthead. It is called, fairly enough, the St. Barth News, and is published 365 days a year, almost entirely in French, sometimes with a paragraph or two of "US and International News" which looks like it is brought to you "Courtesy of St. Barth Properties, Sales and Rentals, The villa experts since 1989."

Certainly the paper is different from the Times in several respects, i.e., it is smaller-- four 8x11 inch pages, except on holidays when the ads swell the size to eight ( my guess is that proportional to the Times readership, the SB News is the larger of the two papers) and it is free. Like the Times, the News has ads on the front page, though somewhat more prominent,--they take up about a third of the page-- local and international news, classified ads, and if there are death announcements, I have missed them. We don't have a lot of that around here.

So let's take a look at how editors who don't have Blairs and Millers to worry about select the news to publish on the front page. You will have to bear with me here, because I do not speak or read French, but there are enough cognates to get the drift of stories, and I occasionally use the dictionary for a key word or two.

From the edition of Mardi, 17 Janvier the lead story headline is:

Quand la tele dans la chambre a coucher endort la libido.

Now there is an attention getting headline, let me assure you. This is important stuff: The story reports on an Italian study of 523 married couples. The study revealed that those couples without television sets in their bedrooms had "la frequence des rapports sexuels double." For those who speak no French at all, that's "Double."

From this we learn a lot about this island. First, the editors of the local paper know what is really important to the readership. These people are FRENCH. They do some things very well. They may have something to teach the Times editors.

Second, this may help to explain why the people here seem so content, so relaxed: none of the 8-10 villas we have rented over the last 15 years had a tv in the bedroom. None. No matter the size of the house, there is one tv, in the living room, which may impact a lot of issues beyond "rapports sexuels", i.e., family values kind of things. Don' worry, I am not going there.

The second lead story is about a French opera singer who had surgery and had to cancel his tour.

And the third story is something about the first female President of Liberia making a movie in South Africa with Laura Bush, Condoleeza Rice, and Matt Damon playing Lance Armstrong.... or something like that.

What do we learn from this? I am not sure, but I have this suggestion to the news editors at the the New York Times: "Come on down, put your feet in the sand at Cocoloba Beach while enjoying a panini and a draft Stella Artis for lunch (or better yet, breakfast) and try to soak up some real island culture, not the crap published in your Travel Section. Maybe you'll get some perspective on what is really important. Mind you, I will not be disappointed if the experience does not change you. I am quite content with the current regime: you worry about the "important" stuff, and I'll watch the weather report for a break in the wind storms so I can go fishing." Hey, somebody's gotta do this work.

A bientot.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home