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Hey, journalists, enough with the fancy leads already!

Reporters used to strive for accuracy, brevity, and clarity. Now it's suspsense, setting, and back story.

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It's the old bait-and-switch, compliments of tabloid culture: A newspaper headline grabs my eye, and I start to read the front-page story beneath it. But instead of immediately learning the pertinent facts, I'm treated to something like this: The demure woman in a beige pantsuit gazes from glazed eyes at what used to be her life's dream.

"It's the cruel irony of it," she repeats in a wistful tone. "Just before my husband died tragically, he predicted this."

Such language is served up widely now that news writers have abandoned customary tenets in favor of a go-as-you-please fiction style. Declining subscriptions and America's obsession with electronic diversions have forced a determined campaign in the print media to "connect" with their readers. That spells hard times for the old-school reporter, that all-seeing fly on the wall whose motto was "shoot it up the middle."

For much of their sometimes seedy history, American journalists have been perceived as tenacious seekers of the facts. Quill drivers, newshawks, ink slingers – reporters have been called many names, most of them not very complimentary. But at least they usually respected the difference between news and pulp fiction.

Now the fly on the wall is an "author" in a camel's-hair sport jacket – one who obviously takes sides with his characters and wraps up a few facts in a tortilla of melodramatic technique. Maybe this paltry piffle helps newspaper circulation, but it's sad to see good reporting replaced by "flash fiction."

I miss the crisp writing and quick, logical flow of information. Accuracy, brevity, and clarity used to be the bywords of a newspaper reporter. Now it's suspense, setting, and back story. Once called the "cynic tribe," many reporters these days are sharing a soap-opera love feast with Oprah.

Over the decades, I've watched journalists expropriate the traditional conventions of the novelist and screenwriter, and my main question is why? The cross between jackal and wolf at least produced the domestic dog; the cross between news and fiction has produced only paperback journalism with its "gas-blue skies" and "pink and gold sunsets." Not much of an accomplishment when you consider that most novels today could be plotted out on the back of an envelope with room left over for a grocery list.


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