No subgenre of journalism deserves to be put out its misery more than the "trend story." Heavy on the breading and light on the catfish, the trend story is typically the work of young reporters whose editors don't care enough to smack them down, or older reporters who are simply unionized hacks. The trend story's evil is only surpassed by its wicked spawn--the "political trend story," a work which applies methodology reserved for light fare ("Stalking With Cougars: Giving New Meaning To Ladies Night!") to actual weighty issues. Like race:
As the nation's first black president settles into the office, a division is deepening between two groups of African Americans: those who want to continue to praise Obama and his historic ascendancy, and those who want to examine him more critically now that the election is over.
The political trend story stands out from its older sibling in how it reeks of condescension and bestows upon a lazy-ass writer the unearned privilege of drawing conclusions about millions of people based on a few interviews and a survey. In this case we have the Washington Post attempting to analyze black talking heads who've had to suffer actual black people who don't agree with them:
During the heated Democratic primary, Smiley questioned Obama's decision not to attend his annual State of the Black Union conference and said he hoped Obama would make it through the campaign "with his soul intact."
The push-back was "brutal," Smiley recalls. Angry listeners called him a "sellout," an "Obama hater" and "Uncle Tom." Surprised and hurt, Smiley left Joyner's show but now uses the rough patch to make the case for a new book he co-wrote, "Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise."
Typical of the political trend-story, the reporter simply accepts Smiley's version as fact and does no digging to see if there's more to the story. (Hint: There is.) I respect Smiley's pivot--he got aired out last year, but he turned it all into a book deal. I can't say the same of reporters who take any sources line as received truth. The hack indulging in the political trend story, isn't worth the unblemished shoe-leather which his stories are allegedly built upon. These are the sorts of articles which force you to cackle in the face of any dead-tree patrician holding forth on the sacred links between newspapers and democracy. Whatever. Do your job. We'll decide whether your worth mourning.
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