Monday, September 20, 2010 Busy Printing Bizarre Comedy Pieces By Edit Page Staffer

Humor writing is hard. Not very many people can do it well. And if you aren't good enough, it often just comes out really weird, forced and/or painful.

The Washington Post, it turns out, is trying to be hip these days by (among other things) having humor writing on its editorial/opinion blog. The editorial section's blog is a strange place already: it's where you go to read Jonathan Capehart and Steven Stromberg keep you updated on the acceptable range of political debate, where self congratulation goes to an extreme (i.e. "I agree with Jonathan that Wil Haygood wrote a terrific piece this morning..." -- good thing, I wouldn't have read the article if only one of them had recommended it!). The blog has its good writers, but unfortunately once you've enjoyed a Colby King gem it's soon back to Jackson Diehl and his recurring series, Where We Should Attack Next.

It was about two months ago that the blog started printing humor columns from one Alexandra Petri, apparently an intern at the time.

Petri writes on everything. She took on the Glenn Beck rally:
With a few additions and subtractions of a small sort, this Glenn Beck rally on the Mall vs. Al Sharpton rally on the Mall vs. Memory of Dr. King rally on the Mall episode essentially has the same plot as Bride Wars, except that the weddings have been replaced with a group of people yelling partisan slogans and waving poorly-worded signs.
Get it? They're all crazy people! Oh and with signs, though most people at the Beck rally didn't, in fact, have signs. Whatever.

When her colleague got giddy about Obama criticizing the petulant left (his words), she giddied on board, doing a post repeating the same basic point but trying to make it funnier, and knocked down a straw man (the left thinks Obama has failed to save the world!) that the Post has been plenty busy knocking down over and over already.

At some point Petri became a staffer within the editorial section, and then got space for an op-ed in the print edition. It was a strange, nonsensical, rambling thing:
Older people are always terrified when they see Facebook groups with more than 30 members. They have this antiquated notion that if we ever got worked up enough, we might show up somewhere in person. True, we might, but only to check in on Foursquare.
Oh and she promoted her own twitter feed in the piece! If you can get that past the editors, well, I suppose I tip my hat.

It's not that she can't be funny; there's some clever writing in there if you look.

But this isn't about a person, it's about how the Post treats its readers. If you want to get more readers on your website (or to your op-ed page), you need high quality content. This whole internet thing isn't just "oh look what we put up on our blog today, we're being edgy!" It's, how do we produce online content that will have a chance of being as good as what the competition is putting up?

The Post, in other words, needs to aim higher. Maybe the edit page's blog should bring in some outside writers, for example. And maybe a humor writer is indeed an idea worth trying. But if you're going to do it, go out there and contract the best person available on the market.

Update: A clarification about that last bit. I don't mean to be saying the Post, with its smaller budget, can produce a website that matches the breadth of the Times' website. But it needs to aim far higher with the content it creates.


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