Sunday, January 13, 2008

Is the Sunday Source now written by children? (and if so, where are their parents?)

I've long been a fan of the lighter side of the Washington Post, having even held a brief stint as a style invitational "Loser" when I first came to Washington. So when the Sunday Source was launched in 2003 to target the 18-34 year old crowd, I was pleased.

Clever and well-written, if a bit light, it was the first section I reached for when the Sunday inserts came; just as the Post intended. Four years later, however, I am deeply disappointed with the section. The writing has become pat and the articles are one-dimensional and singularly insipid. Sunday Source: what happened to you?

Yesterday's issue, for instance, just oozes with mediocrity.

Take Ian Landau's piece about a group of expired frat dudes who offer glib advice in the unlikely event that anyone else might be interested in their quixotic attempt to stave off maturity with a rock club whose members, instead of just going to shows when they feel like it, devote one boozy evening each week to a mandatory and organized outing to whatever band is providing current fodder for the rock blogosphere's feeding frenzy.

Does the Sunday source really need to insult my intelligence with two pages of drivel on a subject like this? Worse, do we really need the feature box, where the idiots featured in Laundau's story share advice on forming one's own rock club -- including tips for handling the wife or girlfriend? To paraphrase these guys: should one's girlfriend or wife object to music night (with its requisite weekly drinking, where hubby returns home after 1 AM to his sleeping wife and kids) then a reconsideration of the relationship might be in order. Never mind if she wants to go see some shows herself or go along, this is a "no girls allowed!" club.

If that weren't offensive enough, Landau goes on to quote the wives, who he describes as "patting their husbands on the head" as they depart for shows while relishing their own "me-time" pursuits, which apparently include "running to target," "quilting," "reading a book or magazine" and those elusive evenings where they even get control of the remote.

Are you KIDDING me, Sunday Source? Is this unmitigated cow dung supposed to pass for journalism? No! This isn't journalism. This reads like a parody, but sadly, it's not.

Lest my vocal discontent be misconstrued as the grumblings of an aging misanthrope, (okay, okay, that's exactly what they are) I would point out that, although I'm now on the older end of its spectrum, I am still the target audience for this section. As a thirty- something trying to balance the concomitant pull of work and family with the desire to keep at least one foot in the "scene," the Post thinks I should eat this up. And if that's true...if you're writing this for me, please stop! Seriously, it's terrible.

If not for me, or someone like me, then for whom are you writing? Sixteen people with no taste and low standards, if the grammar is any indication.

Aside from its inane content, the Sunday Source has become poorly-written. And sure, maybe this is a trend. I've heard before that newspaper journalists are told to write at the fourth-grade reading level in order to keep pace with the general decline in U.S. literacy where readers might otherwise stumble on complex sentences and words like obviate or culminate, which are routinely edited out of copy deemed "too advanced" for the average reader.

Yet, surely a difference must exist between this intentional pandering to the lesser intellectual and the product of writers who just can't do any better.

When the Sunday Source debuted, it seemed well-written, topical, and casual. Most importantly, it had a young voice. Now, it's written by "journalists" who come off as young, alright. In fact, they write like a batch of self-congratulatory interns who perceive their readers as people they need to impress, not enlighten.

Take Suzanne Damato's article this week on fashion do's and don'ts. I know, I know, it's a Q and A, so maybe she's entitled to this type of talk:

"The best rule I know is to figure out what works on you -- with your frame, lifestyle and budget -- rather than blindly following someone else's notions about style. (Yes, even mine.) "

It's possible that Damato meant her parenthetical insertion to be self-deprecating or ironic rather than arrogant, although I'm not sure, considering the fact that she referred to herself at least eight times in half as many paragraphs. Either way, her writing isn't concise enough to aptly convey irony or humor.

What's more, I found her erratic punctuation to be more interesting than her subject matter. After reading the copy, I'm not sure what she finds trendier: the double-collar featured on her model or the overuse of dashes, colons and parentheses. (Too many parentheses usually signifies badly structured text or stream-of-conscious writing, but who am "I" to judge?)

Speaking of me, turnabout is fair play. I use parentheses like mad and I tend to talk about myself pretty frequently on these here pages. But this is a blog. By nature, it is stream-of-conscious blather.

Unfortunately, Damato is writing for a newspaper, not a blog. And its hard to sniff out her credentials when her voice is so distracting. Her fashion chops might be laudable, but she gets in the way of her own ideas. Her articles don't seem to be about fashion so much as they seem to be about what she thinks about fashion. And I'm not sure who cares.

Unfortunately, most Sunday Source writers seem to be without discernible journalistic voice. Instead they come off as a bunch of kids with megaphones shouting "Hey, look at me, no hands!" There's a way to put oneself into copy without coming off as self-congratulatory, if the story demands a first person account. Likewise, one can adopt a casual voice without resorting to platitudes. Clearly, they need guidance. And that's the point of my gripe. This little rant isn't so much a blind criticism of these young writers, whose feelings would be surely hurt if they ever came across this criticism. (I'm sorry!). It's actually aimed at the problem of editorial direction, or, in this case, the lack thereof.

Are these writers choosing their own stories without guidance? Are these writers inherently bad journalists? I doubt it. My guess is that, in its quest for a young, fresh readership, the Post has made caricatures of its writers by offering them free reign without the requisite experience.

Perhaps the best question of all is who are the editors? Debra Leithauser took over for Sandy Fernandez back in 2005 in what FishbowlDC describes as a shake-up. It seems to me the decline in content and readability has been marked and fairly recent, but maybe I haven't been paying close enough attention.

Whatever its current ailments, I hope the Sunday Source gets itself together again soon, because I just can't read it in current form anymore. The paper can do better, and maybe the writers can, too.


Blogger Lonnie Bruner said...

Wait, where does it say that those guys were in a frat together?

10:45 AM  

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