Transcript

Ask The Post

Steve Reiss
Deputy Assistant Managing Editor, Style
Wednesday, July 6, 2005; 12:00 PM

This Week: Steve Reiss , deputy assistant managing editor of the Style section, was online Wednesday, July 6 at Noon ET to field your questions about The Post's coverage of culture, entertainment and the arts.

A transcript follows.

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Fairfax, Va.: I'll be shocked if you answer this question, but why is it that the Style section always has a snarky, condescending, patronizing tone? Many or most of the stories have a "aren't I smart?" or "aren't I stylish?" or "aren't I too cool for school?" attitude that I and many of the people I talk to just cannot stand. It would be better to take if the section was actually great, but more often than not, you fail to cover the real "feature" stories in this town.

Steve Reiss: No sense wasting time, let's get right to it! I'll be shocked if you're satisfied with my answer, but here goes: The pieces in Style vary widely in tone. Some are straight news. Some are wistful. Some are elegiac. And yes, some are snarky. We try to match the tone to the subject matter. Our responsibility to write about popular culture requires contemplating the ridiculous in addition to the sublime. Should we write about Britney Spears or Donald Trump in a tone of well-modulated respect? That doesn't seem appropriate to the subject matter.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you decide who deserves an "Appreciation" piece? If anyone would be more deserving than Gaylord Nelson, I don't know who it is. The courage, the simplicity. the independence, the humor--he was one of a kind....and my hero for almost 50 years.

Steve Reiss: There's more art than science to this process. The most important criteria is that we have something to say beyond what will be covered in the obituary. Often that requires a reporter or critic who has particular insight into the person's work or who has had some personal experience that casts light on how this person came to be who they were. For instance, T.R. Reid's excellent Appreciation of Jack Kilby, the inventor of the microchip, came about because he had written a book about Kilby.

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Takoma Park, Md.: I humbly suggest you guys rethink the way you review children's movies. As an adult moviegoer, I absolutely adore Stephen Hunter. He's incisive, funny, and certainly deserving of his Pulitzer. But it's utterly ridiculous to have him review--and apply adult criteria--to a movie like "Herbie" or the Harry Potter films. As a parent, I'm not interested in knowing whether I'm going to enjoy these movies (I pretty much assume I won't). All I care about is whether they are suitable and enjoyable for my 7 and 9 year old kids. Your reviews of children's movies often don't answer that basic question. If you're going to send your regular critics to these movies, perhaps for the sake of balance you can also send a staffer with children of the appropriate age to do a companion review. Maybe place it on the KidsPost page.

But as for your reviews of adult movies, Hunter and Hornaday rock!

Steve Reiss: Please check out Jane Horwitz's "Family Filmgoer" column in the Weekend section. That's exactly what you're looking for.

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Washington, D.C.: By the time that one adds up commercial art galleries, non-profit art galleries, alternative art spaces, embassy galleries, and cultural art center galleries, there are over 100 new art shows every month in the Greater Washington, D.C. area, making it one of the largest and most active visual art scenes in the nation.

And yet the Style section has diminished its already dismal gallery art coverage to a twice a month schedule by Jessica Dawson. And The Post's Chief Art Critic (Blake Gopnik) focuses exclusively on museum shows, and does not review local art galleries. By comparison, his colleagues at the NY Times and LA Times (for example) review both museums and their cities' local galleries. The Arts Beat column also focuses on arts news events and rarely on local galleries.

What can the Style section do to improve local gallery coverage, say to the same (or even 50%) of the level as local theatre coverage (which is covered in Style on a nearly daily basis)?

Steve Reiss: I understand that no one likes to hear that their gallery show isn't going to get reviewed. But while we've got a lot of talented critics and reporters in the Style section (Thank you, Don Graham!), we don't have enough people or money to cover everything we would like to and we have to make choices. Some of those choices are based on quality, some are based on popularity, some are based on the interests of the individual critics. A while back, we reconfigured one of Jessica Dawson's monthly columns so it would feature a half-dozen galleries instead of just one or two. As for Blake Gopnik, he is a prolific writer and I find it hard to argue that we should be giving up reviews of major museum shows so he can write more about galleries that have a much smaller audience.

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Monterey, Calif.: Hi,

Please give us an update on everything "Reliable Source."

Have you named a replacement yet?

If not, is the selection process underway?

Is Wonkette seriously being considered?

How and where is our beloved Richard Leiby?

You got any dish for us this morning?

Steve Reiss: We are actively looking for the new Reliable Source. Rich Leiby, the Amazing Quidnunc familiar to many Live Online readers, is now working as a general assignment reporter in the Style section. Observant readers may have seen his recent piece on Tom Cruise's tongue-lashing of Matt Lauer. As for today's dish, I'm afraid I don't have much -- unless you care that the multi-talented Sean "P.Diddy" Combs is contemplating redesigning the uniforms at McDonalds.

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Bottom line: What's with the comics getting smaller and smaller? Does it really cost that much to add another page of paper? Is there no advertising to expand a page or 2? Thanks.

P.S. All section editors or proxies should have e-mail addresses listed every day for feedback -- you don't have to respond to all.

Steve Reiss: Actually, newsprint is one of the paper's biggest expenses. And while the comics are certainly smaller than when I was a wee lad, we haven't made any changes in their size recently. You may have to do what I did not too long ago: succumb to buying reading glasses.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Hi, Mr. Reiss. Recently, Op-Ed columnist Eugene Rice has had pieces focusing on Tom Cruise and a black novelist who is upset that the younger man she took up with has decided he is gay. Why isn't Robinson writing for your section of The Post instead of taking up space on the Op-Ed page?

Steve Reiss: Our questioner is referring to Eugene Robinson, a former assistant managing editor of the Style section, and, as my former boss, one of the finest judges of journalistic talent on the planet. Gene was asked to write the column by Fred Hiatt, the head of The Post's editorial board, who wanted to change the mix on the Op-Ed page.

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Alexandria, Va.: What's the worse fashion faux pas, wearing a Orioles or Redskins jersey to a Nationals game?

Steve Reiss: Where else but in Washington do guys who wear button-down shirts get asked for fashion advice? Thankfully the answer here is clear: Never, ever wear an Orioles jersey to RFK. That's worse than tennis shoes with a dressy skirt.

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Bethesda, Md. : Mr. Reiss,

The Style section is always the first thing I look at each morning over coffee and often finish reading it after work . Love the Names and Faces column (first thing I read), and the Fashion column (Robin Givhan is fantastic), along with Tom Shales, the movie reviews , and the many profiles you run. I also love the Escapes column.

I would so love to work there !!

Who are your sources for all the great gossip around town? Do restaurant owners call you to tell you that Big Celebrity was eating at the front table with Senator Big Shot, etc.?

Steve Reiss: And we love you! We have lots of sources for the Names and Faces column (and the soon-to-return Reliable Source). Some of them are restaurant owners, but many of those items come from good, old-fashioned reporting: following tips, calling people, asking questions.

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Crofton, Md.: Since Mike Wise has pretty much taken Tony Kornheiser's job in the Sports section, any chance you could convince Mr. Tony to come back and write a column for Style every once in a while?

Steve Reiss: That was a sad day when Tony Kornheiser gave up his column in the Sunday edition of Style. His TV show, "Pardon the Interruption," is doing well, so I don't think there's much chance he'll be writing for Style anymore.

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Washington, D.C.: I am disappointed every time I see coverage of the popular shows on TV in the Style Section. Why does The Post feel a necessity to write about American Idol, for example, when American Idol already gets plenty of coverage on TV? Where is the news in that?

In contrast, there are lots of interesting events going on right here in the nation's capital that do not get any coverage in the press, even when they are more interesting and have relevance to real life concerns.

I feel and I believe others might share my sentiment, that you have some responsibility to give priority coverage what is going in here in this town - so that the world knows we have a vibrant artistic community of some substance.

Could you suggest some ways that you would like readers help you cover some of the newsworthy arts related events in some no or low cost way? Perhaps The Post could partner with its readership.

Any suggestions?

Steve Reiss: Like it or not, TV is the 800-lb. gorilla of popular culture. And "American Idol" is the most-watched program on TV. We can't and shouldn't ignore it. We do pay a lot of attention to the local arts scene -- theater, music, and believe it or not, visual arts. Still, most people, including the cultured readers of The Washington Post, watch a lot of TV. It's an important part of our lives. We would be remiss not to acknowledge that.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for Robin Givhan. With all respect to the late Nina Hyde, no one ever did it better. That day she called Katherine Harris's makeup a mask so you couldn't trust what she said, wasn't she right? Hope you will encourage her to come on these chats more, as she is a breath of fresh air.

Steve Reiss: Robin Givhan is the finest fashion writer in the land. She is fearless in her opinions and sees her subject matter in the widest possible frame: how people present themselves to the world. That's why the vast majority of us who will never own a piece by Commes des Garcons, or even Zac Posen, read her religiously.

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Arlington, Va.: For a long time now, video games have been reviewed in the Business section? But given that the genre has now branched out to be more like an interactive movie, isn't it time at least some games got a little love from the Style section?

Steve Reiss: We've been ramping up our coverage of video games of late. Although we're not doing reviews in the Style section, Jose Vargas is writing about the games, their creators and the cultural issues they raise.

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Baltimore, Md.: A suggestion: Print a facing pair of inside pages in color. With the left page containing the TV grid in the same format The Post has always used with color coding for movies, sports, reruns, etc. And the right page containing the Reliable Source, Lisa de Moraes' TV column, Robin Givhan's fashion column, and AP entertainment reports for filler as needed, with eye-candy photos related to the columns. This would help make the Style section worth opening rather than just scanning the first page.

Steve Reiss: From your mouth to publisher Bo Jones' ear. We would love to have more color inside the section. It's an expensive proposition and every section in the paper wants more color capacity.

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Washington, D.C.: I think Style is terrific! Keep it up!

I've noticed that Mondays often feature articles with bylines "Special to the Washington Post" or something like that. Do you solicit these pieces from the public, or are they unsolicited submissions? What sort of things do you look for with them?

Thanks!

Steve Reiss: I've gotten a couple of questions like this about the "Style Plus" pieces that run inside the Monday section. The idea here is to present a space for personal essays, often written in the first person, about aspects of their own lives. Many of them come to us unsolicited, although occasionally we'll publish a piece by a staff writer if it seems to fit that mode. Anyone who wants to contribute a piece should contact Anita Huslin, one of the editors here in Style at HuslinA@washpost.com.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: What is Lisa De Moraes' publication schedule? After reading her work for years in your section, here's my guess: every other day for three weeks in a row, followed by a week solid during the "up-front" event for TV advertisers, followed by a few weeks off, and, lastly, "write-whenever-you-feel-like-it" the remainder of the year. Am I right? I miss John Carmody. That guy used to write about TV every weekday. Imagine that! And you'd get TV ratings as part of the column every day, rather than in a separate, sporadic column from another staff writer.

Steve Reiss: Boy, some people want blood from a stone. Lisa De Moraes is the most prolific writer in the section, hand's down. She breaks news, she's fun to read and she's usually writing four columns a week. Let the poor woman take a vacation once in a while!

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New York, N.Y.: Are there are any young reporters in the Style section? Are they all freelancers?

Steve Reiss: We do have some whippersnappers here causing trouble, getting underfoot, annoying their elders, etc. In all seriousness, we're constantly looking for talented young writers. We place a high value on sophisticated reporting, writing and thinking. Sometimes it takes people a few years to get to that point.

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Steve Reiss: I'm afraid that's all we've got time for today. Thanks for all the scathing criticism (and the love!). It's reassuring that you all care as much as you do. We'll try to do better to deserve that care.

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