The cobbler may wear tatty old shoes and the confectioner might tire of chocolate, but journalists never stop reading the news. We can’t help ourselves; it’s an addiction. My own habit includes Google’s newsfeed, the New Yorker and National Public Radio. While these latter two are generally excellent mediums, I had begun to fret over the quality, noting that both seem increasingly to indulge in profiles and puffery; work I recognize (from having done my share) as being, above all, quickly and thus economically produced.
As Exhibit A, I would offer the 20-page (17,000 words) profile of President Barack Obama by New Yorker editor (and Obama biographer) David Remnick. I doubt it was either quick or cheap, and it’s a beautifully crafted and entertaining piece: a classic thumbsucker. However, it tells us nothing new about anything important. The only news that other outlets could cull from it was Obama’s statement that cannabis is no more, and maybe less, dangerous than booze (a point pretty well trodden). Here follows a more egregious example of puffery, wherein the writer likens Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to Superman:
I used to like Amazon, and used it regularly. It seemed the perfect fit for someone enjoys acquiring things, yet dislikes shopping. My feelings about Amazon, Apple and Google soured while reading of their Olympic-caliber tax dodging. One such article by the New York Times, in contrast to those last, helped buoy my faith in the toil of ink-stained wretches.
More recently, after hearing critiques of Amazon’s labor practices, I set out to learn more. I found several illuminating investigations, including reports by the BBC and Financial Times. My favorite, however, was this 2011 report by Spencer Soper in the Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA.
Seeing such great work in a relatively small and lesser-known newspaper lifted my old-fogey funk, restored my faith in the battered heart of journalism, and lead me to conclude that it’s time to swear off my allegiance to Amazon: that’s news one can use.
Post-script: After posting the above, I found this hefty and compelling look at Amazon by on the New Yorker site.