Look, I know Iâ€™m not a journalist. I know that. Heck, Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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 thereâ€™s one kind of journalism that makes me want to throw my borrowed MacBook across the room: The â€œtrend story.â€
I hate trend stories. I hate them.
Whether itâ€™s the perennial report on female sexual desire thatâ€™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 Mapesâ€™s assertion, itâ€™s not clear whether this phenomenon exists outside the confines of her mind.
But wait! She has sources!
â€œHanging on to some kind of rule might be comforting to people,â€ says a grad student from Athens, Ga., whose credentials consist of a blogspot.com blog and Mapesâ€™s phone number. â€œPeople are looking for something they can control and â€˜What should we do about our foreign policy?â€™ is a lot more complicated a question than â€˜Should the period go inside or outside the quotation mark?â€™ â€
Thatâ€™s not stretching. Thatâ€™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. Donâ€™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 letâ€™s at least agree to stop calling it news.
Seriously, class. Pencils down.