Sunday, December 28, 2008

Strangest Cover Stories of the Year

...that I remember.

For newspapers.

First off, the Star-Ledger ran an analysis of the Sri-Lankan singer MIA's hit "Paper Planes". The article, written by a mommy blogger (as far as I recall, this is the only full-length feature she's published since blogging for, explores why the song is a hit and why it's caused some controversy--a type of article, minus the local quotes, that would be more at home in a music magazine like Rolling Stone. The song is mostly known for its gunshots and cash register rings in the chorus than for anything else, since practically every word (including the title) is indecipherable.

The New York Times caught a lot of flack for running a front-page story on Angelina Jolie's relationship with the celebrity press, specifically People magazine. It was pretty brash, saying that Ms. Jolie works the press to such an extent that she effectively controls coverage of herself and her family:
When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt negotiated with People and other celebrity magazines this summer for photos of their newborn twins and an interview, the stars were seeking more than the estimated $14 million they received from the deal. They also wanted a hefty slice of journalistic input — a promise that the winning magazine’s coverage would be positive, not merely in that instance but into the future.

According to the deal offered by Ms. Jolie, the winning magazine was obliged to offer coverage that would not reflect negatively on her or her family, according to two people with knowledge of the bidding who were granted anonymity because the talks were confidential. The deal also asked for an “editorial plan” providing a road map of the layout, these people say.
She's been transformed from freaky sexaholic to humanitarian mother, despite being widely vilified for wrecking Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt's marriage. But while fascinating to those interested in celebrity, journalism, or just plain 'ol gossip, it's one of those articles that sticks out precisely because it's on the front page. Really? you say. It's that slow of a news day?

The Times' public editor points out that the article wasn't as accurate as it could have been, and calls for a correction, which was never given. But he also explains that while many people are angered when the paper covers "less than weighty" subjects in such high-profile detail, it's the newspaper's job to cover "all the news that's fit to print", whether weighty or not. Placement, of course, as well as tone, angle, packaging, etc, are all key components of how a story is accepted (or not), regardless of the facts. Obviously, "strangest cover stories of the year" are almost always never going to be about "weighty" matters, since those are expected to make the front page (and are very troubling when they are not).

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