A plague of bogus trendspotting.

Media criticism.
Aug. 14 2003 5:58 PM

A Plague of Bogus Trendspotting …

… in USA Today, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and the Wall Street Journal.

(Continued from Page 1)

What possesses journalists to dress up defensible stories in trendspotting regalia? Doing a bit of trendspotting himself in the April 1998 GQ, Daniel Radosh blamed the tendency of newsmagazines and newspapers to inflate stories into trends on hard-news competition from the Internet and 24-hour news channels. He writes:

Having largely ceded the task of breaking stories, print publications have concentrated on their strengths, which include the marginally longer attention span necessary to track trends. The flip side of this is that with so many media outlets dipping into the same nonbottomless well, news can dry up before everyone has gotten his share. The result is increased reliance on concept stories that don't require solid material like sources and new developments.

While I'm not sure that the Internet and 24-hour news stoke the trend-mongers, I agree with Radosh that the subjects of the most "intensive" trend stories relate to our primal anxieties about sex, money, religion, family, and technology. (To Radosh's list I'd add health and safety.) Trend stories find favor among readers because they allow them to turn their "anxieties into narratives, complete with deeper meanings, and thereby hope to conquer or at least soothe them."

If Radosh is right and the demand for bogus trendspotting creates the supply, I should stop blaming the media and start blaming readers.

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Thanks to the anonymous reader who tipped me off to the food trend piece. Spotted a trend story that needs debunking? Send e-mail to pressbox@hotmail.com. Your e-mail comments may appear in Slate unless you request otherwise.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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