Every morning I wake up and read through my Twitter feed. Usually hundreds of tweets stack up from when I go to bed till when I wake on the West Coast. Often, tweets orbit around the latest social or political happening. But when two seemingly detached tweets converge in my mind on a related note, it feels like kismet.
That convergence happened today around the theme of relevance.
“Napolitano, who is unmarried and has no children, underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer in 2000, just weeks before she addressed the Democratic National Convention.”
How exactly is her marital status or lack of children relevant to her career change? How is her history of breast cancer, and its temporal proximity to the DNC 13 years ago, relevant either?
The article laid the groundwork for the farm bill, how it would affect funding for food stamps, and then Henneberger noted that, “Some opponents of the bill practically burst into flames on the House floor, where some of the loudest voices were female.” She then goes on to quote several female politicians’ objection to the cuts. Henneberger then abruptly changes direction and concludes with the following:
“Female anger is a hot topic right now; I just finished Claire Messud’s not-nice novel ‘The Woman Upstairs,’ about an elementary school teacher who life has turned into a human cauldron ‘a ravenous wolf.'”
For the moment, I will move past the labeling of concerned female politicians as “female anger,” and focus instead on the move from real female politicians, expressing real concern about funding cuts that could affect millions of families and children, to the association of all of this to a fictional woman.
How is this novel relevant to a discussion of food stamps and women politicians who oppose the cuts to such programs?
It is about as relevant as asking two women vying to become senator of one of the largest states whether they have read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Or as relevant as calling Avril Danica Haines, who was just named as the Deputy Director of the CIA, “an awesomely kinky dominatrix” because she read Anne Rice aloud at her bookstore in her 20s. As The Daily Beast put it, “The former host of ‘Erotica Night’ at a Baltimore bookstore will be the first-ever female No. 2 official at the CIA.”
How is any of this relevant to the news that is being reported?
And in the case of the Napolitano and food stamp articles, why do the journalists close each article with information that is unrelated?
I know that journalists are not as constrained in terms of word count and column inches due to online publishing, but just because you can say more, doesn’t mean you should.
I also know that journalists for a long time implemented the inverted pyramid, with the most important or eye-grabbing information first, followed by less newsworthy details. This journalistic norm was made all the more popular because readers often didn’t get all the way to the end of an article. Nowadays, it could be considered TL;DR.
But to end articles with irrelevant material seems like a case of the inverted pyramid going too far.
When I was reporting on the 2012 elections for UW Election Eye, I would always belabor over the concluding sentences, trying to make them wrap the whole post up in some perfect little bow. My editor David Domke told me it wasn’t necessary, that some posts can just stop.
So my advice to journalists covering women who feel compelled to close on a completely irrelevant note is this: Just stop.