Sunday, January 22, 2006


I honestly just don't get the Reader sometimes. This week's cover story is about a great topic -- EarthBoxes, these plastic tubs that help you grow plants on sites with limited water or poor soil. But however ingenious the devices may be, do they really warrant a story that's essentially a retyped press release? Martha Bayne spends the entire article explaining how great these are, how many people like them, and how they're going to save the world. She outlines who's behind the "project" to encourage their use. (There's always a "project," isn't there? Lord only knows why it takes a whole "project" to grow plants in forest-green Igloo coolers. Bayne certainly doesn't tell us.)

She never exhibits even the most basic level of journalistic skepticism. Even the box makers' aim "to end world hunger, stimulate economic self-sufficiency, and foster cross-cultural understanding by marrying EarthBox horticulture and wireless communications technology" is presented as a perfectly reasonable and attainable goal.

Bayne obviously didn't interview anyone other than the people behind the "project." And as usual, the editors failed to call her on it. This thing is going to save the Earth, why should it have to inspire an interesting story, too?

This is an especial bummer if you've seen Bayne's other work. Her Reader and Baffler stories on Charlie Trotter's were terrific exposés of how Trotter's weird ideology governs even the smallest details of his operation. If only Bayne would do a similar exposé of the Reader itself. I bet that place's organizational ethos makes even Trotter's look sane.