Do you like Dave Barry? Please don’t say no, because that would hurt my feelings. If you don’t know, he was the Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist for the Miami Herald. He belongs in some kind of hall of fame for this column alone.
By definition, one who makes you laugh is not boring. If you have ink on your newspaper that causes people to guffaw and hand the thing over to someone sitting nearby, well, then you have an antidote to many of our industry’s problems.
Not long ago, I read an interview with Barry on a website called “Newspaper Death Watch.” Barry was bemoaning the state of things and hit on what I think we can all agree is a big problem: boring newspapers. Here’s how Dave tells it:
Newspapers have had a consistent problem over the past 30 to 40 years that whenever they are offered two options, they always pick the one that is more boring and less desirable to readers. …
I think he is alluding to our tendency to seek the relative safety of the very middle of the road. We do this for a good (or at least ostensibly good) reason: We think fairness dictates it. We can’t run that great high school football photo six columns wide because, gosh, what about the other high school games that day? We can’t run a front-page editorial because, well, it just isn’t done. We can’t tell what we really think of that local hamburger in our review of the joint because, darn it, the owner of the store is such a nice guy. …
In comedic terms, we are trying to be The Andy Griffith Show instead of The Daily Show, forgetting that one of those shows has been off the air for 45 years.
Look, I’m not suggesting that you go snarky and make fun of everyone or that you begin your next story with the word “buttocks.” Comedy is hard. Leave it to the pros. But I am suggesting that you seek out new and innovative – and fun – ways to display information. Every story needn’t be 400 words beginning, “By a 5-2 vote today, the City Council…” Try telling the story with a bar chart and a short cutline. Use a series of photos to show the fumble that turned the outcome of the big football game. Invite teenagers to take over your opinion page one week. Think outside the box. It will be more fun for you and it will be more fun for your readers.