Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Reader is not the New Yorker

It's hard to explain exactly what's wrong with a story like this week's cover feature, "Out of the Courtroom and Into the Street." It's typically Reader: Long and meandering, with frequent detours to describe local scenery, bits of history or trivial conversations. These are meant to provide color.

Clearly, the Reader's editors feel they're helping to keep an endangered style of writing alive. You may remember it from the old New Yorker (if not, check out John McPhee, A.J. Liebling and Joseph Mitchell.) Eschewing topicality, they chronicled offbeat, unheralded people and places -- certainly nothing you'd learn about from a press release. The story's interest was derived wholly from the author's immersive reporting, precise prose and keen eye for idiosyncratic detail.

I guess the Reader deserves some degree of praise for carrying the torch. The problem is, their writers don't actually have any of the qualities required for this kind of journalism. So you get stuff like the following.
[The principals in a burglary trial are visiting the scene of the crime.]

"'All right, John, any questions?' [Judge] Locallo asks [public defender John] Coniff. It's not clear to whom Coniff would address them, but the PD says he has none.

'Andy, any questions?' the judge asks [prosecutor Andrew] Dalkin. Dalkin likewise has none.

'Gil, any questions?' deputy Rhodes asks her partner softly. [Deputy Gil] Guerrero rubs his stomach. 'Yeah. Where can I get something to eat?'"
Ha ha ha. This is what passes for slice-of-life reporting in the Reader. Unfortunately, anybody who actually slogs through a few paragraphs of this stuff will be soured on reportage forever. Especially after they nod off on the El and wind up getting their wallet stolen.

4 Comments:

Blogger dunl said...

The article you're talking about is an excerpt from a book.

An excellent book, but don't just take the word of this random comment. See, for example, the review from The Economist.

2:53 PM  
Blogger spiky said...

Ha! From the sound of that review, the Reader's eds managed to pick the most boring part of the whole book. What are the chances?

3:09 AM  
Blogger spacecog said...

They have a sort of bizarro world midas touch.

5:55 PM  
Blogger spacecog said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:55 PM  

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