Will BS for Bylines

3 02 2009

Look, I know I’m not a journalist. I know that. Heck, I’m barely even a blogger, and while I do get paid not terribly poorly for my ability to string together a coherent English sentence, I have no illusions about being a media expert of any kind. So, please, take what I’m about to say with a huge hunk of salt.

Also, you should know that I love journalists. I do. They perform an essential service for practically no money and even less respect and can drink any other profession under the table with cirrhotic liver to spare. Hell, I even wanted to BE a journalist once, before I realized that I could probably make more money smashing my face against a wall and posting the video to YouTube.

But there’s one kind of journalism that makes me want to throw my borrowed MacBook across the room: The “trend story.”

I hate trend stories. I hate them.

Whether it’s the perennial report on female sexual desire that’s invariably written by a dude, or the assertion that legions of Ivy League women are forfeiting careers to care for their families based on one personal account and no research, the trend story is one-third speculation, one-third arrogance and one-third ham-handed obfuscation.

Today MSNBC.com features an especially egregious incarnation of this phenomenon. According to contributor Diane Mapes, recession-related stress is causing grammar snobs to become more aggressive. Leaving aside for a moment the sheer banality of Mapes’s assertion, it’s not clear whether this phenomenon exists outside the confines of her mind.

But wait! She has sources!

“Hanging on to some kind of rule might be comforting to people,” says a grad student from Athens, Ga., whose credentials consist of a blogspot.com blog and Mapes’s phone number. “People are looking for something they can control and ‘What should we do about our foreign policy?’ is a lot more complicated a question than ‘Should the period go inside or outside the quotation mark?’ ”

That’s not stretching. That’s just made up.

Trend stories are lazy journalism. The formula is simple: Come up with a moderately plausible far-reaching social assertion based on your experience or that of your friends or maybe just something from an old episode of Dr. Phil. Bonus points if your thesis defies conventional wisdom or ties into an actual trend, like the recession. Next, find one or two people whose story supports your assertion. Don’t be afraid to use your friends. Finally, pepper your story with vagaries like many, often, seems and experts say. Voila, you have yourself a trend story.

Surely this kind of drivel has its place, but passing it off as journalism is nothing but a disservice to an already troubled institution. Maybe someone can help the Diane Mapeses of the world start their own blogs where they can brazenly assert that their personal experiences as harbingers of larger cultural phenomena, but let’s at least agree to stop calling it news.

Seriously, class. Pencils down.




8 responses

3 02 2009
3 02 2009

You borrowed that MacBook from me. Throw it at your peril. And sorry you’re jealous of my man-crush on Matt Drudge.

3 02 2009

All things being “equal”, I do “enjoy” the blog of unnecessary quotation marks.

3 02 2009

Sorry to spoil your image of journalists, but you must have missed this enlightening trend story about how no one gets drunk any more:


4 02 2009
I’m Just Laura » Blog Archive » Speaking of Trend Journalism…

[…] honor of my friend who hates trend stories (http://urbzen.com/2009/02/03/will-bs-for-bylines/), I’m going to comment on another one:  […]

5 02 2009

36/9 news leads to an entire legion of media professionals who scrape the bottom of the murkiest, pitch-filled barrel for a story that has not been covered and cross pollinated several dozen times. It’s a blowback of internetiness and NEWS ON. To make up a number in the spirit of the day, I would say that 74.6% of all news stories are worthless fluff. There is a trend of aged 30-something childless women to boycott new stories and sleep past seven. According to my wife…

5 02 2009
Ryan Rose

Red, I saw that grammar story too. I had actually just written off an angry missive to my co-editors about grammatical errors around our website, so I used the Jezebel takedown of said article as a way to diffuse any subsequent tension. (“Sorry about my angry email…must be the recession…heh heh.”) Maybe economic woes are the new hormones?


In other news, my friend’s blog, which is dedicated to all b.s. women trend stories, made Diane Mapes her “Hero of the Month” (facetious)


16 03 2009
The Recession Garden: Seeds of Discontent « U R B Z E N

[…] garden” turns up 145 stories over the past month alone. Evidently, America’s intrepid Trend Journalists allege, the economic crisis has hit many families so hard that they are now cultivating their own […]

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