We’re bringing sexy back. That is the point of this issue.
But backing up a bit from that (slightly racy) conclusion. When we accepted pitches for this issue, we were presented with one that inadvertently posed a question about the way the news works: Should reader demand and consumption drive the content of news? Being members, to varying degrees and qualifications, of the media which the pitch questioned, and being rather self-indulgent as is the wont of our generation (or so a number of studies by my elders tell me), we were taken with the meta nature of this question. And so, for me, at least, it led to more questions.
I’m about to use the bulk of this space to muse, so if that turns you off, I urge you to skip a few lines. Marketing ourselves is necessary to stay financially viable, and so, we must run that which will be consumed, and that is sexy. That means that, no matter how vital a piece it would be, it is unlikely that we will ever see a major periodical running a front page story about transportation infrastructure in sub- Saharan Africa. For the reader and the writer, road tar just isn’t sexy.
But what happens when we sell sexy and keep the roads on the backburner? I, like so many, have been raised to fetishize the notion of the abstracted and objective position of the press. We provide information, so what does it matter if it’s sexy information or not? It’s just the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Then again, and here’s the kicker, maybe Ms. Poppins, overly-reliant on sugar, was setting up dear Jane and Michael Banks for diabetes later in life.
While I adore the notion of the news as the aloof information provider, I recognize, as we see in our piece by Mingming Feng (11), that the news can have an impact on its subjects—fairly unremarkable, but more remarkable for the fact that it appears to be aware of its impact. And yet at times it lets that slide, publishes the sexy when publishing the homely roads and infrastructure could influence the direction of nations, the lives of men. So it comes down to this:
What does the New York Times’s motto even mean? “All the news that’s fit to print.” It’s an omission that they do not print all the news, but only that which is somehow sent through a cryptic blackbox down a ways on Eighth Avenue and spit out with the seal of approval “fit to print.” Let’s say that what’s fit to print is what sells. Then we must question our objectivity, because we’ve prioritized issues in such a way as to, with varying degrees of passivity and/or activity, condemn stories and lives to the dustbin of awareness. But if we actively publish those things that are unread and underreported, do we lose our viability, our readership, and become so activist as to lose our semblance of aloof credibility?
We could have faith in niche publications to print the underreported. I’m sure somewhere there’s a leaflet called the Road and Traffic Signal Digest that runs regular features on the role of infrastructure construction in development work. But who reads that? So, what do we do as a news provider—no matter how collegiate or small?
Here is the thought I settled upon (mainly to quiet my mind): Sexy news is important, so let it run. But some of us must serve as a counterweight. The goal of this publication is to engage readers in viewpoints that may challenge them from both sides of the aisle, so why not lump in a focus on all the news that’s not fit to print, per se, but is fit to read? How about we check in with issues that have lapsed our of the popular mind, like Taylor Thompson does (7), or that the press often fears to tread into for their complexity, their distance, and their lack of appeal or clear resolution, like we do in our Interview (24)? And how about we rely on the skill and passion of our writers and editors to take topics that other publications might think will not sell, and instead of accepting content as inherently sexy or unsexy, we make it sexy? Not by changing the story, but by thinking critically, by making missed connections, and by presenting solid reporting in solid narratives. How about we bring sexy back?
Naturally, that’s how I cleared my mind of these questions—by listening to Justin Timberlake and pulling my mantra and solution from the hottest song of 2006. Take it or leave it. But for now, the Columbia Political Review is bringing sexy back to topics that have been left behind or shoved into the concerns.
Now take ‘em to the Table of Contents!
P.S. A shout out to contributor James Kahmann, CC’12, who won our “Where’s Betsy!?” contest in the last issue. The challenge for this issue? Find all the dirty puns we’ve made in titles, subheads, captions, and/or articles. Ready, set, go!