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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Someone Appears to Be Awake at the Chicago Tribune

Something very strange is going on. A cultural news story of some significance and interest to the general public emerged over the weekend on a web site based in the realm of the coastal elites. It was followed up on in the New York Times yesterday and today. The normal courses of action at the Chicago Tribune in response to such a story would be to a) ignore it, b) throw some wire copy in the Metro section and call it a day, or c) wait roughly two months and then ponder it in a lengthy Tempo essay ostensibly devoted to a comically overbroad broad topic ("On Truth").

The interesting cultural news story at hand is the revelation that James Frey made a bunch of stuff up, and it is an ideal candidate for being sidelined by the Tribune's "Interesting + Timely = Too Much Work" ethos. It would require acknowledging the existence of New York City, for one, which is exhausting. And who reads books anyway?

But lo! What is this? James Janega has not only written a news account of the Frey flap, but he actually traveled to Frey's hometown of St. Joseph, Mich. And in the course of actually reporting on a cultural news story, he appears to have advanced it, uncovering previously unreported police records that buttress the case the Frey was more of a reckless frat boy than a self-destructive monster. And it appeared in today's Tribune. I'm speechless.

The implications are astounding: The Tribune is now seemingly prepared to not only acknowledge interesting, culturally significant news stories that don't relate to White House-appropriate footwear or dognapping, but they actually approved travel to catch up on a story almost immediately after reading about it in the New York Times.

(I am left to wonder, however, whether they would have jumped on it so quickly it had Oprah Winfrey's name not been attached--she was an early champion of Frey's and is largely responsible for his success. Half of me has to assume that the only way anyone in the Tribune Tower even came across the story was via an "Oprah Winfrey" Google News Alert. On the other hand, Janega's story manages to name her without citing her connection to Chicago, another astounding shift in the Tribune's news principles.)