The bogus trend stories of summer: Chubby is hip; laptoppers evicted from coffee shops; DIY burial.

Media criticism.
Aug. 14 2009 3:20 PM

Bogus Trend Stories, Summer Edition

Chubby is hip; laptoppers evicted from coffee shops; DIY burial.

(Continued from Page 1)

The Journal alleges that the "trend" to evict laptoppers "is accelerating among" independent coffee shops and that "the recession has clearly accelerated it." But the aggressive policing of laptop use at coffee shops isn't new. A June 13, 2005, New York Times piece reported that Seattle and San Francisco cafes were ousting Wi-Fi moochers to make way for paying clientele. Even the headline of the Times piece is remarkably similar to that of the Journal's: "Some Cafe Owners Pull the Plug on Lingering Wi-Fi Users."

A year after the Times covered the "trend," the Boston Globe published"Wi-Fi Wars: Loiterers Can Be a Drag on Businesses' Bottom Line" (July 9, 2006). The Globe's findings: "Now some owners are fighting back by charging for wireless access, shutting off their signal at peak business hours, or telling loitering laptoppers to shell out or ship out."

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The Press Box verdict: Move along, seekers of novelty and excitement—there's nothing here but an empty cup of joe.

Finally, last month (July 21), in a story headlined "Home Burials Offer an Intimate Alternative," the New York Times hyped the idea that "a growing number of people nationwide" are turning family funerals into do-it-yourself events.

If the New York Times wants to maintain that a growing number of America's sons and daughters have taken to floating their dead parents on a bed of ice for a nice DIY service in the family parlor, surely somebody has performed a body count that documents that fact. Alas, the Times article presents no home-buried counts for any year. The closest the story comes to putting a number to the practice is when it reports that one "death midwife" has "helped more with 300 families with funerals" since 1995, weekend workshops that instruct folks in how to plant their loved ones "have a waiting list," and the number of "organizations or individuals nationwide that help families with the process" stood at two in 2002 and is 45 today. The first anecdote doesn't measure anything meaningful, and the other two only establish that there is some interest in home burial, not that it is booming. So desperate is the Times to put a face on this nontrend that it mentions parenthetically that Michael Jackson's family was thinking of burying him at Neverland. Right. I can see Joe Jackson washing Michael's body, Tito digging the grave, and Jermaine assembling the funeral bouquet.

This trend is DOA.

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Just three years ago the New York Times was hyping the beard: "At hipster hangouts and within fashion circles, the bearded revolution that began with raffishly trimmed whiskers a year or more ago has evolved into full-fledged Benjamin Harrisons." Thanks to trend-spotters David Frank, Stephen Parker, Carla Saulter, Anupreeta Das, and others for their suggestions. Seen a bogus trend story? Send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. I get trendy almost hourly on my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word DOA in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

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