Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the August 7, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Sex & Violence
What, if anything, is exciting about being a newspaper
Well, let me tell you. In the last issue of U.S. 1, the Summer Fiction
issue, I deleted the last sentence — the very last sentence —
of a 1,500 word short story and I think I made the story better in
the process. The writer (whose identity I will withhold here, but
who I may well point out at our Summer Fiction reception this Thursday,
August 8, from 5 to 7 at Barnes & Noble) had shown the denouement
of her story perfectly well; the last sentence only told the
readers what they already knew.
In that same issue, I asked the writer of another short story to change
his narrator from the first person to third person. The central character
in the story died in the end, and as a reader I was distracted to
discover that the character I had grown somewhat close to had actually
been speaking all the time from the grave. The change, and explaining
it to the writer, got me thinking about narrative point of view and
distance — the stuff of my college English studies.
Being editor of U.S. 1 doesn’t get much more exciting than that.
I got thinking about the excitement of my job after reading a brash,
tell-all book written by a former editor of the Trentonian, the publication
that — along with the Times of Trenton — gives our capital
city the honor of being one of the very few remaining two-newspaper
towns in America.
One of U.S. 1’s freelancers passed the book along to me about the
same time I was mired in selecting and editing the submissions to
that Summer Fiction issue. The title alone was enough to add it to
my reading list: "Tabloid from Hell — The Rise and Fall of
a Beloved Newspaper." The author (who published the book through
an outfit called iUniverse Inc. in Lincoln, Nebraska) is Mike Raffaele,
who served as editor of the Trentonian in two terms during the late
1990s and in the fall of 2001. For Raffaele, the excitement of the
editor’s job apparently never included line editing stories or pondering
matters of distance and point of view in narrative technique. For
this editor, the excitement was in selling newspapers:
people immediately mention the page 6 girl. The Trentonian is the
only paper in the country to feature models. It had a cult following.
The readers loved the girls. Readers don’t want to admit it, but
sex sells. . .
"For me this `discovery’ came in May, 1997, when the Trentonian
led with `TEACH, TEEN HAD SEX IN SCHOOL.’ . . With soaring
sales, we plowed on. There was a reader demand. I’m a whore when it
comes to readers. Their wish is my demand."
readers with stories they don’t care about. Don’t try to enlighten
readers. Instead give readers what they want. And remember that the
lowest and most common denominator of all is sex. Violence is just
one notch above that.
If you want some insight into the editorial direction of the Trentonian,
you can simply skim through Raffaele’s afterward, in which he lists
his winning (as measured in newsstand sales) and losing front page
Among the winners: SEX IN THE MORTUARY. SEX KITTENS IN
THE CLASSROOM (illustrated using a Trentonian reporter posing as
a high school girl in a tight blouse and short dress, photographed
from the neck down). MOM TURNS TRICKS AS TOTS BURN. MINISTER WANTED
ME TO DRESS LIKE HOOKER. MICE DROPPINGS IN SAM’S CLUB EASTER CANDY
(a special favor, according to the editor, for a business establishment
that chose not to advertise in the Trentonian.) JAILHOUSE SEX
KITTEN (a story about a 17-year-old girl, purported to be very
attractive despite the fact that no one had a photo of her. Two years
later she was photographed in a courtroom appearance — "she
wasn’t that hot," laments Raffaele.)
Tough decisions in the newsroom make for exciting moments. Raffaele
recalls the dilemma of one particularly busy news day: "What do
you lead with: A sexy coed who dies of encephalitis during a trip
to Tanzania or an arm with the name `Steve’ on it being found in a
dumpster?" The solution: Run both on successive days: COED
KILLED BY MOSQUITO and COPS SEEK REST OF `STEVE.’
Raffaele also rattles off some of the losing covers (many describing
stories ordered by publisher David Bonfield, who — according to
the editor — tried to make the Trentonian relevant to important
people, not just regular Joes, and thereby contributed to the "fall
of the beloved newspaper"). One loser: SAVE OUR KIDS. Raffaele’s
analysis: "An education story about the floundering Trenton schools.
Bonfield wanted to make education an issue. Issue stories in Trenton
I could share more of the losers, but having read Raffaele’s book,
I know better than to bore you. Instead I will draw on my new editorial
insights and concoct a page one headline for this column. Let me tell
you, this editing business can be pretty exciting.
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