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Saturday, December 4, 2021
Editor’s NotebookEditor's Notebook: Stop taking it all soooooo seriously, Posties

Editor’s Notebook: Stop taking it all soooooo seriously, Posties

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Under the subject line “One of the better belly laughs I’ve had in a long time” came a missive Monday night from a fellow local-media potentate, pointing me to a just-released Washington Post article that, with all the breathlessness of Watergate coverage, reported that the Bezos Bulletin (as informed locals now call it) had caught Arlington County Board candidate Audrey Clement in a lie.

Clement had told the paper she was in her early 50s, the article said, when in fact she is somewhat more robustly seasoned in the earth’s turns around the sun. And the paper had proof of that, having gone through state records to find her date of birth on several pieces of paperwork. (Clear the shelf for that Pulitzer, kiddos…)

Apparently what happened is that the paper wanted candidates to fill out online questionnaires, and the computerized program didn’t allow respondents to skip the “age” question. So Clement wrote in a younger figure as something of a protest in requiring candidates to answer a question she feels is inappropriate. From this, the Post tried to make a big deal.

Turns out the Posties, as is often the case, missed the context. Clement wasn’t lying to them, as they contend. She was f*cking with them. A big difference.

As the fellow media potentate noted in his message to me, there’s a relative newbie on the Arlington beat (Patricia Sullivan — the Madame Defarge of the local press corps[e]? — having gone into retirement some time back), and perhaps the new arrival was trying to impress his overlords, who have assigned him to the Alexandria/Arlington beat — a beat that, for reasons that remain hard to fathom, seems to occupy the very lowest rung in the Post newsroom ladder.

Had someone with an inherent sense of humor, and the gut instinct of being able to get away with it, been writing the piece, it would have been endlessly entertaining to have layered it with deft cleverness rather than the drumbeat of hyperventilating moral indignation that a candidate was trying to deceive the all-powerful Post.

It brings to mind the time a naughty reporter at the Times Community Newspapers (RIP), for which I toiled way back in the day, slipped in this lead paragraph on a story about a local homeowners association requiring a resident to move an outdoor light slightly to meet regulations:

“Six inches, maybe eight. That’s all it would take to satisfy the Reston Association,” the reporter (not me, but I remember who) typed up to open his article. Went right by a clueless copy editor and onto the presses.

I still remember getting the phone call from fellow editor Juanita Thigpen, who had just seen that double-entendre in print. “You’re not going to BELIEVE what slipped through,” she said.

A good chuckle was had by those of us suddenly aware of the situation, coupled with the hope that the mukkety-mucks of management wouldn’t catch it and make all our lives miserable. (They didn’t. I have found that newspaper management seldom actually reads newspapers. Present company excepted, of course.)

One finds it hard to believe any young reporter these days would have the gumption to try and slip that by. Creativity is not the professional standard any more; making articles as flaccid and listless as possible apparently is.

Not here, of course; we do our best to liven things up with tricks such as, above, tossing the word “flaccid” into coverage wherever circumstances warrant. But I have a feeling that any 20-something with ambition and creative impulses is NOT headed into the journalism biz these days.

Anyway, I’m with ya on this one, Audrey. First of all, all publicity is good publicity, so you actually benefited. And were you less classy than I know you are, you might well have rung up the reporter after the article was published and suggest that he could, as the saying goes, perform an anatomical impossibility on himself.

OUR COVERAGE GOES NATIONAL: I was driving home Monday afternoon just before the deluge hit, listening to “The Five” show on FOX via the radio, and in a discussion of the Virginia gubernatorial race, Dana Perino (a voice of sanity in a mixed-up world) opined that parents in Virginia were indeed PO’d (despite what Barbara Obama suggested in somewhat condescending remarks at an earlier McAuliffe pep rally). She pointed to news coverage that Fairfax County Public Schools was still 10,000 students short of its pre-pandemic numbers.

Hey, I thought to myself as I pulled into a parking spot, that was from OUR coverage.

And indeed it was; Brian Trompeter’s coverage, to be specific.

One doesn’t expect, on a political talk show, that they’d be giving credit on every little thing, so no offense taken. But it is good to know somebody’s paying attention to our coverage.

– Scott McCaffrey

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