Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dear Washington Post, My Love for You Is Waning

I'm one of those old-schoolers that gets the Washington Post delivered. I think the Express is for Ritalin-tweaked Gen Yers with helicopter parents and surgically implanted iPod earbuds. I don't watch television, ever, because it's a goofy idiot box. I don't like getting my news from the Internet because the Internet is a skanky pathological liar with grandiose notions of itself. I like my news to be old school, served up with a side of gooey gray stains and a parade of Macy's ads. If that makes me a curmudgeon, so be it.

So, for the most part, I've been immune to the dumbing down of the news. But now my beloved Post has fallen headlong into the Keanu Reeves territory of cute and dumb.

I'm talking specifically about Page 3 of the Metro section. Page 3, back in the day, was the score sheet on shootings, stabbings, government corruption, and deer crashing through McDonald's windows. Now the Post has gifted us with a Page 3 of reader-submitted stories. Most fall under categories like "random acts of kindness," "kids say the darndest things," or "really long boring story about some lady's garden."

Each one of these stories offers a nauseating editorial introduction, like, "Many people have had experiences with rogue elephants returning their missing wallets. We think you'll enjoy Ms. Hortense Himmelpickle's take on this issue, with her heartwarming tale of a rogue elephant seeking redemption, a clown in search of a circus, and a cookie with an attitude problem." Then Hortense holds forth about some life-altering experience she had at the 7-11 in Ashburn.

The only article that irritated me more was Gene Weingarten's take on Joshua Bell playing his violin on the Metro. For those of you that missed it, world-famous violinist Joshua Bell played a Stradivarius during rush hour, and commuters walked on by. That stunt was a hoot, albeit a well-written hoot. Weingarten pulled together pages and pages about people passing by Bell, scurrying to their jobs. Somehow that makes Washingtonians bad, soulless, artless people, and the few who stopped to listen got labels like "cultural hero."

Here's the real story: never has a journalist gotten so much ink out of the simple fact that people on their way to work are usually in a hurry. We knew that already. They're running late, they haven't had their coffee, they've come a very long way to work at difficult jobs that barely sustain them in a very crowded, expensive city. Somehow Weingarten turned that into a moral failing on the part of Washingtonians. On my typical morning commute, I am so oblivious that a chartreuse space alien could be playing the spoons in his underwear and I would walk on by. That doesn't make me a bad person.

The thing is, I read the paper for the news. Call me an elitist, but I don't want to read about the Hortenses of the world with my morning coffee. I don't want a humor columnist to tell me I'm a bad person for having to get to work on time. I get that newspapers are crashing and burning and going broke all over America, but I don't think the answer is to coddle people or to write endless pages about the things we already know.

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