Dog Shows Are Like Too Much of Today’s Journalism

This year’s Best in Show had powder-puff, painstakingly coifed hair

This is the time of year for journalism awards—the National Magazine Awards in March and the Pulitzer Prizes in April—and also for the Westminster Dog Show, which last night, according to the New York Times, did this:

Flynn the bichon frisé was crowned Best in Show at the 142nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night. The champion, a jovial 5-year-old, cut a striking, cloudlike figure in the ring: His powder-puff fur was painstakingly coifed, and he trotted jauntily across the floor with a step that looked almost lighter than air.

Cute but that’s not a real dog—just like what a lot of what’s now called journalism is not real journalism.

Our neighborhood’s two most popular breeds, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, never win at Westminster. They’re great dogs—good for hunting and even better as companions. They’re good with people, calm and dependable, and don’t demand or seek a lot of attention, a lot like many of the print reporters I knew before the lure of television and the web convinced many journalists that talk and opinion pays better and than good reporting.

In the 1990s, while judging the National Magazine Awards in New York, I rode in a cab with Osborn “Oz” Elliott, who had edited Newsweek for 16 years and was then teaching at the Columbia J school. He said then that he was seeing a shift in journalism away from a passion for good reporting to stories that had lots of attitude. Elliott said more journalists saw opinion and attitude as an easy way to get attention—and a bigger paycheck. He died 10 years ago, just as the Internet was further showing that there often is more money in cleverness and Twitter followers than in good reporting.

At the Washingtonian, I got the most reader reaction from stories that had great reporting and clear writing, that helped readers better understand their world, that made them laugh or cry, that helped make their lives better. It always seemed the equivalent of a sports team winning with good fundamentals, not running trick plays.

So I’d argue that Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are better companions than the powder puff breeds that win dog shows. And that the future of journalism is doing the kind of good reporting that attracts and keeps readers, not what now passes for journalism on much of television and the web. Bet on good journalism—the kind done by the New York Times and Washington Post—to be the key to who survives in the digital age. And hope that someday a Lab or Golden Retriever will win the big dog show.

Background: The three most popular dog breeds in the U.S. are 1. Labrador Retrievers, 2. German Shepherds, 3. Golden Retrievers. As noted, Labs and Goldens have never won Best in Show at Westminster, while German Shepherds have won twice.

Winning Best in Show most often: Wire Fox Terriers, 14 times; Scottish Terriers, 8; English Springer Spaniels, 6.




    Dear Jack,

    Delightfully optimistic!

    I also was the best friend to many good dogs, all of whom (including black and chocolate Labs and chestnut golden Chilean Turtle Hounds) outclassed and outsmarted almost all of the WKC dogs I’ve ever known.

    Moral: Real dogs don’t have poofed hirsute adornment and lockstep obedience. Neither do most good reporters.

  2. Thanks BARNARD COLLIER says:! Wine is a fun subject 😉

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