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Good Circulation But No New Blood

By Michael S. Lottman

THE new National Observer is obviously taking dead aim at the "family" market. On its first front page, for instance, the Observer ran a great big rocket picture for Junior, a story about a tough general and guerilla warfare for Dad, a fashion article for Mom and Sis, and a piece on what's happening to city churches for dear old Grandma.

Inside the Feb. 4 issue, there were more devices to attract the "family" reader--cartoons, a picture page, a "Current Events Classroom," a "Scrapbook" column which included Whittier's "Barbara Frietchie," recipes, and advice on how to play bridge.

Besides all this, the new venture of Dow Jones and Co., publishers of the Wall Street Journal, included long and detailed coverage of most of the major news events of the week. Its mission, apparently, was to make world news palatable to the man in the street and his family, after softening them with the side-shows mentioned above.

After two issues, however, it is by no means assured that the National Observer will succeed in its goals. The combination of unattractive layout, overpowering volume, bad writing, and a general lack of journalistic know-how seem ail too likely to repel newsstand browsers. And the National Observer can not count on the patronage of the intellectual upper class; members of the Harvard community, for example, will find upon inspection that very few articles in the first two numbers tell them anything new.

"First of all, this is a newspaper," the National Observer said in its inaugural editorial. The editorial goes on to emphasize that the Observer is "a newspaper and not a magazine," and to enumerate the advantages of its chosen format, such as the wide pages and big headlines.

BUT if the National Observer is to be a newspaper, it is going to have to act like one. A newspaper generally puts its most important, most newsworthy story in the upper right hand corner of page one. In Vol. 1. No. 1, the story in this position is a rather untimely discussion of police scandals in American cities that begins, "It was just about two years ago, in January 1960, that Chicago, a city not easily shocked, got a jolt that shook it thoroughly." The story is actually interesting and informative, but it hardly rates being treated as the feature attraction of the issue. In general, the National Observer could do with a more thoughtful layout. Since it is a newspaper and not a magazine, it does not have to order its stories according to subject, a la Time or Newsweek; but it badly needs some organizing principle, and for most newspapers this has been the relative importance of the articles.

Although the front pages have been attractive, the make-up has not been consistently good. Occasional inside pages present the unrelieved gray of long banks of type, without pictures, charts, or anything else to encourage the reader. When the National Observer uses pictures, it uses them well; the page-long photograph of the Saturn rocket on the front of the first issue is striking, as is a huge shot of the Matterhorn in the second. But there still remain long stretches of unbroken type, which simply will not be read.

Poor Technique

In part, this difficulty is due to the great size of the National Observer, and its six-column format. (Most newspapers have eight columns.) The page is as long as the New York Times, and about an inch and a half wider, which means the reader practically has to spread the paper out on the floor to be able to handle it. The columns, therefore, are unusually wide, with two results: the type is hard to read, and pictures, if used at all, almost have to be on the gigantic side.

There are other examples of poor technical journalism. For instance, the page-one article on religion in the first issue is headlined, "The Travail of Rev. Kean--Like Many Another City Minister He Copes With Shifting Population." Yet one must wade through 14 inches of front page copy, and another 18 inches under a similar headline on page 22, before reaching the first mention of Rev. Kean. This sort of thing can be annoying.

THE writing in the National Observer, while clear, is uneven. Lead paragraphs, in particular, vary from sharp, direct statements to uninteresting, left-field approaches. A typical lead of the first type was, "The U.S. is becoming more deeply involved in a fierce, undeclared war in southeast Asia." This is not wildly exciting, but it sums up a long story in a sentence and is at least moderately eye-catching.

Unfortunately, however, National Observer leads often consist merely of the first fact in a chronological recital, and indicate only indirectly what the story is about. In an article about the indictment of former Sister Kenny fund raisers, the first paragraph says, "Since its organization 17 years ago as a nonprofit organization corporation [????] for treatment of polio victims, the Sister Kenny Foundation of Minneapolis has always fared well in fund raising campaigns." Perhaps this is barely permissible in a magazine, but by its own admission, the National Observer is playing newspaper.

The following typifies another variety of bad lead the Observer employs frequently:

"Feathers, opium, castor oil, talc, sapphire, iodine, raw silk, and whale oil.

"These are some of the 98 items...

This is standard high school fare and it is occasionally effective on the adult level. But in general it is far from tantalizing, and readers soon tire of guessing games. In addition to these faults, about one-third of Observer leads bear no apparent relation to the headlines above them. And the rest of the article often degenerates into a chronological recital.

THE second issue revealed an extremely alarming development in the Observer's news coverage. The article in featured position, somewhat more worthy of its location than its predecessor, was headlined, "U.N. Bond Issue Kicks Up Fuss Across the Land--Chiselers', Says Welder in Milwaukee; Defense From Mr. Stevenson." And although it finally gets around to a serious discussion of the issue, the story was largely a collation opinions from the common man--Seattle fishing company executive, a Milwaukee welder, a treasurer of a federal savings and loan association in Birmingham, and, oh yes, Adlai Stevenson, among several others.

Even if the common man knew everything about U.N. bonds, it would hardly be the function of a newspaper to report his opinions, at least not one one. These common men, moreover, are not particularly enlightened, nor are their comments illuminating. Crittendon, 75, of Milwaukee, "The purpose of the bond issue is all right, and I approve of what we're trying to do in the Congo. Just the same, we should only invest million, and not half." The information or educational values served reporting this opinion are not read-discernible. Similar statements from more common men clutter up a front-page article on the tariff in the second and obscure a deeply-buried but good discussion of Kennedy's trade program. The history of given issue, apparently destined to another National Observer staple, ought to be used with discretion; in tariff article, it sheds little light on what is basically an unprecedented .

The National Observer's attention-getting features are not uniformly wonderful either. Its cartoons are contently unfunny. The "Current Events Classroom" reduces issues to terms that are overly simplistic; it is easy enough to picture a four-year-old reading some stunning revelation--say, that atom bombs produce fallout--and exclaiming "Oh, my doodness!" But it is hard to imagine anyone much older learning anything in the "Classroom."

But the largest failure of the National Observer is that it has not its own stated aim. Its opening editorial says, ". . . there are times when everyone feels inundated with news. What is hard to find in the is understanding. . . . The problem of most readers is to find their way through the sheer bulk. . . . In a weekly newspaper the news does not come in bits and pieces. . . . This time to sift the news, to put it in perspective, to present it in a manageable package, has always been the great advantage of the weekly paper."

Yet the National Observer fairly inundates the reader with a mass of unevaluated detail. Its longer news stories read as though a Friday story had been tacked on to a Tuesday story, and a feature article added to that. The reader finds no synthesis, no logical ordering, but merely a chronological repetition of recent happenings.

And much of the paper's shorter material is useless. Inconsequential one-paragraph news stories merely add to the welter of material, and the more homey ones are reminiscent of Grit, a family weekly that used to specialize in colloquial good will and pictures of giraffes. If there is anything this country doesn't need it, is another Grit.

This tendency toward collection rather than reflection extends to the Observer's reviews of plays and books, which merely synopsize the opinions of the New York Times, Time, and Newsweek. Clearly, this is no contribution at all.

BUT the National Observer has its good points. Its treatment of nearly every subject is painstakingly objective; the only one-sided news story in the first two issues was on sex and violence in television programs. And the paper has included some fine features, notably a piece on Julius Nyerere in the first issue and an interview with Harold Macmillan, a piece on the French Army, and a well-stated editorial on the U.N. in the second. (The Observer's editorial bias is expectedly on the conservative side, but not hysterically so. It also firmly espouses religion and generically related causes, such as clean TV programs.)

If the Observer can cut down on the length of its major articles, tighten its writing, and abandon the encyclopedic approach, it might actually serve an important informational function. Diversionary features alone will not hold reader interest; the heart of the paper must be made attractive also.

IF the Observer has no more formidable competitors than World, it will have only itself to blame if it fails. World is the brainchild of Ralph de Toledano, a militant rightist. In each weekly issue, the left-hand pages are devoted to government news, those on the right (naturally) to private news. All pages are equally badly dummied, and most of the news is badly presented and of little consequence. Stories range from the "World Roundup," which in a recent number was entitled, "Unrest, Gloom Persist in Most Global Hotspots," to the minutiae of "This Spinning World." One "Spinning World" item in the same issue said, "South African milk producers are planning a major shift in packaging, from bottles to plastic bags. . . ."

World also presents illuminating forums, such as "Apartheid: Two Sides," which consisted of one-sentence utterances from Macmillan and South African Prime Minister Henrik Verwoerd. Its white hope at the moment is George Romney, and when it is not booming him World indulges in head-hunting. Recently it vituperatively attacked Sen. Stuart Symington, as a "Cassandra," and published an old picture of William Arthur Wieland and Fidel Castro captioned, "William Arthur Wieland listens to a friend."

The quality of World's prose is such that fact and meaning are often obscured. One reads that Francis Gary Powers "sung like a bird," that Romney "did not trip once during the talking," that Khrushchev is "the wily, warty Soviet boss."

A recent "Editor's Footnote" by de Toledano contained an attack on the Fidel Castro-Jack Paar machine. At that, it was the most intelligent article in the entire issue, which may give some indication of World's devastating incompetence

The National Observer's attention-getting features are not uniformly wonderful either. Its cartoons are contently unfunny. The "Current Events Classroom" reduces issues to terms that are overly simplistic; it is easy enough to picture a four-year-old reading some stunning revelation--say, that atom bombs produce fallout--and exclaiming "Oh, my doodness!" But it is hard to imagine anyone much older learning anything in the "Classroom."

But the largest failure of the National Observer is that it has not its own stated aim. Its opening editorial says, ". . . there are times when everyone feels inundated with news. What is hard to find in the is understanding. . . . The problem of most readers is to find their way through the sheer bulk. . . . In a weekly newspaper the news does not come in bits and pieces. . . . This time to sift the news, to put it in perspective, to present it in a manageable package, has always been the great advantage of the weekly paper."

Yet the National Observer fairly inundates the reader with a mass of unevaluated detail. Its longer news stories read as though a Friday story had been tacked on to a Tuesday story, and a feature article added to that. The reader finds no synthesis, no logical ordering, but merely a chronological repetition of recent happenings.

And much of the paper's shorter material is useless. Inconsequential one-paragraph news stories merely add to the welter of material, and the more homey ones are reminiscent of Grit, a family weekly that used to specialize in colloquial good will and pictures of giraffes. If there is anything this country doesn't need it, is another Grit.

This tendency toward collection rather than reflection extends to the Observer's reviews of plays and books, which merely synopsize the opinions of the New York Times, Time, and Newsweek. Clearly, this is no contribution at all.

BUT the National Observer has its good points. Its treatment of nearly every subject is painstakingly objective; the only one-sided news story in the first two issues was on sex and violence in television programs. And the paper has included some fine features, notably a piece on Julius Nyerere in the first issue and an interview with Harold Macmillan, a piece on the French Army, and a well-stated editorial on the U.N. in the second. (The Observer's editorial bias is expectedly on the conservative side, but not hysterically so. It also firmly espouses religion and generically related causes, such as clean TV programs.)

If the Observer can cut down on the length of its major articles, tighten its writing, and abandon the encyclopedic approach, it might actually serve an important informational function. Diversionary features alone will not hold reader interest; the heart of the paper must be made attractive also.

IF the Observer has no more formidable competitors than World, it will have only itself to blame if it fails. World is the brainchild of Ralph de Toledano, a militant rightist. In each weekly issue, the left-hand pages are devoted to government news, those on the right (naturally) to private news. All pages are equally badly dummied, and most of the news is badly presented and of little consequence. Stories range from the "World Roundup," which in a recent number was entitled, "Unrest, Gloom Persist in Most Global Hotspots," to the minutiae of "This Spinning World." One "Spinning World" item in the same issue said, "South African milk producers are planning a major shift in packaging, from bottles to plastic bags. . . ."

World also presents illuminating forums, such as "Apartheid: Two Sides," which consisted of one-sentence utterances from Macmillan and South African Prime Minister Henrik Verwoerd. Its white hope at the moment is George Romney, and when it is not booming him World indulges in head-hunting. Recently it vituperatively attacked Sen. Stuart Symington, as a "Cassandra," and published an old picture of William Arthur Wieland and Fidel Castro captioned, "William Arthur Wieland listens to a friend."

The quality of World's prose is such that fact and meaning are often obscured. One reads that Francis Gary Powers "sung like a bird," that Romney "did not trip once during the talking," that Khrushchev is "the wily, warty Soviet boss."

A recent "Editor's Footnote" by de Toledano contained an attack on the Fidel Castro-Jack Paar machine. At that, it was the most intelligent article in the entire issue, which may give some indication of World's devastating incompetence

Yet the National Observer fairly inundates the reader with a mass of unevaluated detail. Its longer news stories read as though a Friday story had been tacked on to a Tuesday story, and a feature article added to that. The reader finds no synthesis, no logical ordering, but merely a chronological repetition of recent happenings.

And much of the paper's shorter material is useless. Inconsequential one-paragraph news stories merely add to the welter of material, and the more homey ones are reminiscent of Grit, a family weekly that used to specialize in colloquial good will and pictures of giraffes. If there is anything this country doesn't need it, is another Grit.

This tendency toward collection rather than reflection extends to the Observer's reviews of plays and books, which merely synopsize the opinions of the New York Times, Time, and Newsweek. Clearly, this is no contribution at all.

BUT the National Observer has its good points. Its treatment of nearly every subject is painstakingly objective; the only one-sided news story in the first two issues was on sex and violence in television programs. And the paper has included some fine features, notably a piece on Julius Nyerere in the first issue and an interview with Harold Macmillan, a piece on the French Army, and a well-stated editorial on the U.N. in the second. (The Observer's editorial bias is expectedly on the conservative side, but not hysterically so. It also firmly espouses religion and generically related causes, such as clean TV programs.)

If the Observer can cut down on the length of its major articles, tighten its writing, and abandon the encyclopedic approach, it might actually serve an important informational function. Diversionary features alone will not hold reader interest; the heart of the paper must be made attractive also.

IF the Observer has no more formidable competitors than World, it will have only itself to blame if it fails. World is the brainchild of Ralph de Toledano, a militant rightist. In each weekly issue, the left-hand pages are devoted to government news, those on the right (naturally) to private news. All pages are equally badly dummied, and most of the news is badly presented and of little consequence. Stories range from the "World Roundup," which in a recent number was entitled, "Unrest, Gloom Persist in Most Global Hotspots," to the minutiae of "This Spinning World." One "Spinning World" item in the same issue said, "South African milk producers are planning a major shift in packaging, from bottles to plastic bags. . . ."

World also presents illuminating forums, such as "Apartheid: Two Sides," which consisted of one-sentence utterances from Macmillan and South African Prime Minister Henrik Verwoerd. Its white hope at the moment is George Romney, and when it is not booming him World indulges in head-hunting. Recently it vituperatively attacked Sen. Stuart Symington, as a "Cassandra," and published an old picture of William Arthur Wieland and Fidel Castro captioned, "William Arthur Wieland listens to a friend."

The quality of World's prose is such that fact and meaning are often obscured. One reads that Francis Gary Powers "sung like a bird," that Romney "did not trip once during the talking," that Khrushchev is "the wily, warty Soviet boss."

A recent "Editor's Footnote" by de Toledano contained an attack on the Fidel Castro-Jack Paar machine. At that, it was the most intelligent article in the entire issue, which may give some indication of World's devastating incompetence

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