Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Frank Rich left the Times

I've spent most of the day either watching cable news coverage of the Japanese nuclear reactor crisis or monitoring behind-the-scenes developments regarding the group formerly known as KUSF volunteers. I've had quite enough drama from all sides for now.

I finally got around to reading Frank Rich's last column for the New York Times, in which he explained why he decided to leave the paper.
Safire, a master of the form, was fond of likening column writing to standing under a windmill: No sooner did you feel relief that you had ducked a blade than you looked up and saw a new one coming down. He thrived on this, but after 17 years I didn’t like what the relentless production of a newspaper column was doing to my writing. That routine can push you to have stronger opinions than you actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion. Believe it or not, an opinion writer can sometimes get sick of his own voice.

I found myself hungering to write with more reflection, at greater length at times, in a wider and perhaps experimental variety of forms (whether in print or online), and without feeling at the mercy of the often hysterical exigencies of the 24/7 modern news cycle.
"Hysterical exigencies." Yes, that's an apt phrase.

Rich identified his great strength as an opinion writer: his ability to find "a narrative in the many competing dramas unfolding on the national stage." That ability to see a path through the weeds is what I will miss most about him, and the nation will be the poorer for the loss of his authorial eye.

I find myself gravitating to longer pieces recommended by the likes of The Browser and Longreads rather than to snippets of tech news from Hacker News or Engadget. The short "news" pieces I used to devour were like unsatisfactory tapas: I thought I'd eaten the equivalent of a full meal, but found myself hungry again a disconcertingly short time later. If Rich actually pens the promised longer pieces, I'll be eager to read them.

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