Note to editors: Respect your elders
With most newspapers drawing more than half their audience from people who are 55 years of age and older, you would think they would avoid insulting those readers. But you would be wrong.
Although respectable media practitioners generally have learned to mind their manners when referring to individuals of different races, religions, genders, sexual orientation, physical capabilities and mental capacities, a notable lack of sensitivity persists toward people who have five, six, seven or more decades under their belts.
A couple examples of Chronological Incorrectness occurred over the weekend in the New York Times, which is widely regarded as one of the most carefully edited papers in the land. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. So, listen up, whippersnappers.
In the first instance of Chronological Incorrectness, the paper gratuitously stated that an 84-year-old woman quoted in a story was “lucid.” The woman was interviewed in connection with the coverage of the 65th anniversary of the classic sailor-kisses-a-woman picture that was snapped in Times Square on the day World War II ended.
In the initial online posting of the article about the woman on Friday evening in the City Blog, Gloria Bullard, a retired nurse, was characterized as “vivacious and lucid.” By the time the story made it to page one of the print edition on Saturday, “lucid” thankfully was expunged. At last check, however, it remained on the web, as shown below:What’s the big deal? Glad you asked.
Unless otherwise noted, I presume everyone interviewed for a New York Times article – as well as the journalist conducting the interview – is indeed lucid. To go out of the way to state that someone north of 55 is lucid is to buy into the decidedly false assumption that she is a doddering geezette.
That is flat-out insulting to this individual and all her peers, who also, hands down, happen to be the most faithful customers that newspaper publishers have.
The second instance of Chronological Incorrectness in the Times occurred on the front page of the business section on Sunday in a story about how new management is trying to revive the Archie comic franchise. “At 68,” said the article, “Archie is suddenly looking awfully spry.”
Although the reference to the comic character was lighthearted, the use of the word “spry” is offensive, because it buys into the proposition – quite often unfounded – that those north of 55 are likely to be physically feeble or infirm.
Thanks to advances in medical care (for those fortunate enough to afford it) and greater awareness of the dangers of processed food, the benefits of exercise and the insanity of smoking, today’s 55-plus crowd on average will live longer than any preceding generation.
All signs indicate that this generation also will be actively engaged for many more years to come in the realms of commerce, government, education, non-profit pursuits and almost every other facet of society.
Given the wretched turn in the economy in the last few years, those north of 55 will try to be actively engaged in the workplace – whether they like it or not – for far more years than any prior generation.
In an example of the enduring influence of this generation on the body politic, more than three-quarters of the members of U.S. Senate are north of 55, with four in their eighties, 23 in their seventies and 34 in their sixties.
As to another of the unfortunate misapprehensions about those north of 55, it should be noted that they are not technologically recalcitrant. Far from being fuddy-duddy Luddites, newspaper website visitors – as discussed previously here – actually appear to be early and passionate technology adopters.
Greg Harmon of Belden Interactive, the foremost expert on consumer behavior at newspaper websites, has found in hundreds of surveys across the country that newspaper web visitors look exactly like consumers of the print product.
The reason for this is that newspaper site visitors actually are the same people who read the print product – a not-so-fun fact that should shiver the timbers of publishers concerned about the long-term mortality of their predominant customer base. Eventually, you see, even spry people die.
While smart newspaper editors and publishers are scrambling to diversify the demographics of their audience as fast as they can with any number of print, online and mobile products, the least they can do in the meantime is to respect the people who happen to be their very best customers.
And that, until further notice, would be their elders.