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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

editor?

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:

"Sex and the Trentonian go hand in hand. Mention the Trentonian,

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."

That’s the mantra of "Tabloid From Hell." Don’t bore

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

headlines.

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

suck."

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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