Saturday, August 15, 2009

I probably shouldn't say this, but ...

I really like this post about anniversary stories by John McIntyre, former head of the Baltimore Sun's copy desk. It's from his blog called "You Don't Say." I'm not against all anniversary stories, it's just that sometimes I'd like us to think harder about how we do them -- to push ourselves to not do what McIntyre talks about -- and also to be open to the idea that we don't ALWAYS need an anniversary story on the anniversary of something.

Anyway, his post:

I wasn't at Woodstock: "Few things in journalism bear as strong a sense of inevitability as the anniversary story. Point a writer to an event, ten, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, forty, or fifty years in the past, and you can lay out the page before the text is in hand — none of those messy contingencies with stories that don’t pan out.

No doubt such articles appeal to a “Hey, I remember that” nostalgia among readers, especially my fellows in the boomer generation, our waistlines expanding as our hairlines recede, as we struggle to see through our trifocals to the golden haze of youth.

But the real reason for the proliferation of anniversary stories is that they are easy.

Very little real reporting is involved; much of the information can be retrieved readily from the archive — rather like the partially masticated rodent tissue that owls deposit in the beaks of their young. Beyond that it is only necessary to round up a few people with a peripheral connection to the event and record their incisive comments: “Like, it was heavy, man.” And because our visual age demands images with stories, the photo archive is just sitting there to be exploited. Nothing could be easier.

I was at The Cincinnati Enquirer for the fifth-anniversary commemoration of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire.*

Click here to keep reading. Trust me, the story he tells is worth it.


  1. so, maybe Living should rethink the way it does the "Remember" oral history series? many of those get pegged to an anniversary.

  2. Not necessarily. A lot of readers do like anniversary stories. I guess what I'm saying is we shouldn't take that for granted and just assume that any anniversary story we do, for the sake of doing a story on an anniversary, is a good story. Sometimes I think we (journalists generally, not just the YDR) can fall into a rut of spotting an anniversary and figuring if we can just get something in, we've done our jobs. Argento's piece 40 years after the riots, which ran a few weeks ago, was an attempt to not do the standard 40-years-later story. You can assess whether it worked. I'll link to it here when I'm back in the office if you didn't see it or can't find it in archives. (Or if you find it and have time link to it in a post, great.)