To fill the shorts void, Lelyveld added the various "briefing" sections that exist today. For my money, they're a poor substitute. Most of them run much longer than K-hed length, so there's little art to their editing. And there's always something more "newsworthy" to run in the "World Briefing" than a spectacular traffic accident in the Andes.
The abundance of bite-sized pieces scattered about gave readers multiple points of entry into yesterday's newspaper. Parched by a long story about tax policy that jumped from Page One, a reader could always count on finding a little oasis where he could replenish himself. Knowing that most pages contained a few shorts gave readers added reason to flip through the paper and nibble here and there.
Everybody claims to have a cure for what ails the modern newspaper: more color, better printing, better graphics, more attitude in reporting, less attitude in reporting, more local coverage, punchier articles, and on and on. Am I the only one who finds the layouts of today's newspapers to be too symmetrical, too sterile, and too predictable? I won't pretend it's a magic potion, but if I ran a daily, I'd fleck it with random news-wire shorts: freighter sinkings, strange statistics, diplomatic postings, "News of the Weird"-type reports, industrial accidents, animal facts, and, yes, bus plunges. Lots of bus plunges.
Had I been in charge of the Times on Oct. 28, 2006, I would have directed the foreign desk to distill a 266-word AP account of a bus accident in Nepal down to 43 words and drop it onto A10 of the Oct. 29 edition. It would have read like this:
Nepal Bus Plunge Kills 42
KATMANDU, Nepal, Oct. 28 (AP)—Forty-two people died when a bus skidded off a mountain road 250 miles west of here and plunged 250 yards into a ravine. Another 45 were wounded. Such deadly accidents, often caused by poor roads and aging, overcrowded vehicles, are common in Nepal.
Addendum: Ready for a second plunge? See this follow-up story. ... Here's the latest bus-plunge story, hot off the wires. My holiday plans are to recruit the local chapter of the Third World Club and drive in my Honda van to the bottom of a Shenandoah Mountain ravine in hopes of making K-hed news. Yours? Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
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