Jack Shafer on New Yorker Triptik Ledes

Late in the afternoon of Thursday, August 21st, 2008, the media columnist for the Internet magazine Slate, Jack Shafer, who is a highly-caffeinated, intermittently dyspeptic Michigan native of indeterminate age and pronounced libertarian political views, posted a short item concerning the ostensible over-use by The New Yorker of what might be called time-stamped ledes, which is to say, opening paragraphs of articles that situate the reader in a particular place at a particular time. Shafer, who keeps an office at the Slate bureau on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington, D.C. not far from the headquarters of The Washington Post, which recently purchased Slate from the Microsoft Corporation, of Redmond, in the state of Washington, seemed to be mocking a venerable convention when he wrote:

Defenders of the dated lede say that such time markers provide readers with an anchor to help them weather the whirl of data about to wash over them. The date pileup assures readers that there will be no narrative surprises, that all to be revealed will first be foreshadowed. Plus, it gives the fact-checking department something to check! Detractors heave phooey on the magazine's devotion to straight chronology and dismiss the dated lede as "once-upon-a-time" hackwork. They yearn for magazines that refuse to script linear TripTiks.

Some writers at The New Yorker, and at least one ex-writer for The New Yorker, choose not to "heave phooey," in Shafer's indelicate phrasing, on the "dated lede." They argue, instead, that it is important to guide the reader quickly to the substance of the article, particularly in this age of fancy-pants magazine writing, such as what shows up, on occasion, in the pages, so to speak, of Slate, sometimes under the byline, unfortunately, of this very blog writer, who is not unaware of the fact that his gentle scolding of Shafer will cause "phooey" to be heaved upon him.