Newspapers Are Boring. But They Don't Have to Be.

Jack Shafer writes:

Everybody claims to have a cure for what ails the modern newspaper: more color, better printing, better graphics, more attitude in reporting, less attitude in reporting, more local coverage, punchier articles, and on and on. Am I the only one who finds the layouts of today's newspapers to be too symmetrical, too sterile, and too predictable? I won't pretend it's a magic potion, but if I ran a daily, I'd fleck it with random news-wire shorts: freighter sinkings, strange statistics, diplomatic postings, "News of the Weird"-type reports, industrial accidents, animal facts, and, yes, bus plunges. Lots of bus plunges.

I'd go a step further: the content is too sterile and predictable too.

The New York Times employs some of the most talented journalists on earth, augmented by multiple layers of editors who polish their prose. And even it's front section is a yawn inducing read if attempted from cover to cover.

Some stories are masterpieces.

They're as much a testament to good fundamentals as a Roger Federer backhand or a Tim Duncan drop step.

Other times, however, fundamentally sound journalism is just... boring.


SEATTLE — For the second time in a generation, education officials are rethinking the teaching of math in American schools.

The changes are being driven by students’ lagging performance on international tests and mathematicians’ warnings that more than a decade of so-called reform math — critics call it fuzzy math — has crippled students with its de-emphasizing of basic drills and memorization in favor of allowing children to find their own ways to solve problems.

At the same time, parental unease has prompted ever more families to pay for tutoring, even for young children. Shalimar Backman, who put pressure on officials here by starting a parents group called Where’s the Math?, remembers the moment she became concerned.

“When my oldest child, an A-plus stellar student, was in sixth grade, I realized he had no idea, no idea at all, how to do long division,” Ms. Backman said, “so I went to school and talked to the teacher, who said, ‘We don’t teach long division; it stifles their creativity.’ ”

Across the nation, the reconsideration of what should be taught and how has been accelerated by a report in September by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the nation’s leading group of math teachers.

It was a report from this same group in 1989 that influenced a generation of teachers to let children explore their own solutions to problems, write and draw pictures about math, and use tools like the calculator at the same time they learn algorithms.

But this fall, the group changed course, recommending a tighter focus on basic math skills and an end to “mile wide, inch deep” state standards that force schools to teach dozens of math topics in each grade. In fourth grade, for example, the report recommends that the curriculum should center on the “quick recall” of multiplication and division, the area of two-dimensional shapes and an understanding of decimals.

Asleep yet?

Newspaper writers need to take more risks to tell important stories like the one above in words worth reading.

Give me clever word play.

In Online editions include links to unexpected places.

Put a clever kicker on every story so that there's always incentive to read to the end.

As a reader I always prefer accuracy to inaccuracy, and fair portrayals to unfair portrayals.

But stylistically, I'd rather suffer through a few creative leads that don't quite work than slog through as many boring leads that are functional but uninspired. And I'd rather read past a few clever allusions or cultural references I don't get than peruse copy devoid of any allusion or cultural reference unless 90 percent of readers are sure to get it.

Why must newspapers be so stodgy?

Tracy Bratten @ November 14, 2006 - 1:46pm

I agree. It seems that journalists have abandoned style in an attempt to appear objective, but I don't think this is a necessary sacrifice. It is possible to give an account that is both accurate and artistic, but newspapers have overwhelmingly sided with bland narrative over colorful prose, perhaps to purport fairness in reporting. But aren't we all, at the core, writers? Sometimes it's not what you say, but how you say it.

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