Readers threw stones this week at a Feb. 7 Page One article on granite countertops, saying it smacked of paid-for product placement, that it was old news about an old trend, that it was too trivial on a big news day and that generally it just didn’t fit.
The story, by Style writer Monica Hesse, was about why Americans are fixated with these slabs for their kitchens. It was intended for the Style section but landed on A1.
Here are some typical reader comments on the article and its prominent placement.
Pablo Collins from Kensington wrote: “How much was The Post paid for the front-page story on granite? (I didn’t realize that The Post accepted advertising on the front page, is this new?) Okay, I know The Post didn’t get paid, at least not directly, for the story, but how much did it save in reporting costs by picking up a trade association’s fluff piece. This isn’t front-page journalism; this article is such a puff piece it barely belongs in the home section. Shame on The Post. Keep this up and my first paper of choice in the morning will be the New York Times.”
John Seymour wrote, “I just read, with dismay, the front page story on a kitchen trend — the use of granite in countertops. It's appropriate for Style, or the Post Magazine, but why the front page — even if below the fold? And why 1,000-plus words on granite countertop purchases at all? How slow a news day can this be, with the election, and Iran, and the economy. And why a story that uses euphemisms for status pursuits--our product is ‘emotional,’ ‘inspirational,’ unique . . . what happened to the Post’s respect for the difference between hard news and soft lifestyle monitoring?”
And this from Rob Jones of Edgewater:
“I was dismayed to find a multi-page advertisement for a Maryland granite dealer masquerading as journalism on the front page of the Washington Post. . . . How much was the Post paid to publish this non-story commercial, replete with praise for low price points, on the front page? I must agree with the quote from the article: ‘I would be more comfortable if we were talking about something that was important. Something that mattered.’ This entire article did not and does not matter, except to the accountants who tallied up the money The Post must have received for writing and publishing this breezy ad.”
Okay, for the record, this was not product placement; no money changed hands from granite dealers to Post employees that I could discover. This was meant as a Style piece, a look into a trend that, while not new, is persistent and expressive of this age.
I felt that the article poked more fun at these kitchen altars than it worshiped them. Hesse has an unusual voice if you’re not accustomed to reading her — it’s sardonic, a bit twisted and irreverent. But at least she has a voice, whether she’s writing about Occupy D.C. or the Oscars.
Hesse had this to say in defending her story: “This piece is not exalting the praises of granite. This piece is exploring a cultural obsession in a dry and sardonic way. It’s possible that the tone was lost on some people, especially if they regularly turn to the front page expecting ‘hard’ news (though, I must point out, granite is very, very hard).”
Tuesday was a very hard news day. The Post led with the State Department closing its embassy in Syria because of rising violence there. It began its “Capitol Assets” investigative series about congressional earmarks that benefit lawmakers. It had an article about fraud in D.C. government, and another about low-skill workers still struggling in the improving economy.
Wow, heavy. I think a lighter story for balance on A1 is appropriate.
There were two other pieces inside the A section, both by Dan Eggen, that I would have considered for A1. The first was President Obama’s reversal on Super PACs, these largely anonymous fundraising vehicles that can spend millions in support of presidential campaigns, which Obama had earlier denounced. And I liked the counterintuitive story that some experts are saying that Democrats could win back the House of Representatives this fall.
Those deserved some attention too, maybe on A3 instead of A10 and A11. But I bet there were a lot of Post readers who, when they unfolded their papers, went first to the granite story.