Grading Out the Storytelling ...


I am an unabashed cheerleader for The New York Times.

For those who have the stamina to read more than 10 words at a time, it’s trustworthy.

For those in the communications business of constructing non-fiction storytelling, the Times offers daily lessons. In fact, you’ll find some of the best journalist storytelling on the planet in The New York Times Dining section every Wednesday, like this ditty from a recent restaurant review:

As trays loaded with salad-like dishes leave the counter, you can glimpse bits and pieces of the two more formal restaurants flying by, like the scraps of Kansas that Dorothy sees caught in the twister. Look — it’s the NoMad chicken! And isn’t that the pork confit from Eleven Madison Park?

Well, no, not really, as you will discover when you sit down and eat. The Made Nice confit doesn’t have the creaminess or the concentrated delicacy that suckling pig gives the original, or the golden roof of crisp skin. It’s a dark brick of shredded pork, a heavy-tasting and oddly inert centerpiece for a summer salad of shaved corn, watercress and wheat berries.

Any time you can channel a moment from The Wizard of Oz, you’re on the right track.

Wizard of Oz showing Dorothy dealing with twister inside the cyclone.

Following the mantra of high school English teachers across the country, the writer Pete Wells doesn’t tell us that Made Nice falls short in transporting the dishes of its ritzy brothers to a fast-casual restaurant. He shows us. If you want more on Mr. Well’s storytelling, check out one of my all-time favorite reviews that took aim at Guy Fieri’s place.

With that as the backdrop, I put a recent NYT job description for an Apple beat reporter through the adjective/adverb filter. You can see how it plays out below.

New York Times NYT Job Openings Domestic Correspondent Apple San Francisco CA details.

Not good. Lots of yellow.

Once you get past “behemoth,” even the choice of adjectives and adverbs reads like something out of the HR 101 handbook:

  • Biggest
  • Creative
  • Enthusiastic
  • Highly motivated
  • And the list goes on

We can conclude that the storytelling chops from the NYT reporting ranks haven’t found their way to the publication’s recruitment effort.

I’m not against adjectives and adverbs. I use them. Pete Wells uses them. Even Truman Capote was known to dress up with an adjective or two.

But The New York Times has missed an opportunity in not showing us the adventure — connect the dots from the Cupertino HQ to a disgruntled ex-employee on LinkedIn to a friend of a friend for a new story on Apple’s tinkering with cars — that awaits the individual who lands the gig covering Apple.

No doubt, the person who takes the job won’t make the same mistake.

Sidenote: For more on the topic, check out “Applying Storytelling Techniques to the Humble Job Description.”

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