'Times': An Unhealthy Trend

For once, a New York Times soft feature got right to the point. But don't think this is a trend.

You may have read yesterday's Page One piece "A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss." If not, push aside your growth-hormone-injected bacon and genetically enhanced eggs to call up Kim Severson's story, which starts:

Eating locally raised food is a growing trend. But who has time to get to the farmer’s market, let alone plant a garden?

Slate's Jack Shafer, the chief tormenter of Timeswoman Judy Miller back in the pre-war daze, has food for thought about Severson's story in his Press Box column this morning, "A Midsummer Harvest of Bogus Trend Stories: Drivel from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe." Shafer, as usual, has no trouble getting to the point:

The bogus trend story thrives thanks to the journalists who never let the facts get in the way when they think they've discovered some new social tendency. Take, for example, the story on Page One in [the July 22] New York Times titled "A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss." Its first sentence declares, "Eating locally raised food is a growing trend."

Although the piece collects anecdotes from San Francisco; New York City; Santa Fe, N.M.; Berkeley, Calif.; Mill Valley, Calif.; the Hamptons, N.Y.; and Vermont, it presents no evidence of a rise in the consumption of locally raised food. The closest the piece comes to quantifying its assertion that backyard gardens, "cow pooling" arrangements, and vegetable subscription programs are taking off is the fuzzy sentiment sourced to a Bellevue, Wash., research firm that for a "growing number of diners, a food's provenance is more important than its brand name," and a National Restaurant Association survey of 1,200 chefs working at chain restaurants or large food companies. The survey found that locally grown produce was the second-hottest food trend — right after bite-sized desserts.

Yes, there is a trend, but not the one the Times was trying to conjure up. It's more of a battle of trend stories, as Shafer points out:

The Times was beaten to this bogus trend by sister paper the Boston Globe on June 3 in a piece titled "Amid City Streets, a Growing Trend: High Produce Prices Send Urbanites in Search of a Spade and Handful of Seeds."

The Globe's proof that a million gardens are blooming comes from two companies: American Seed, which shipped 18 percent more vegetable seeds to dealers this year, and New England Seed, which says its vegetable seed sales are up about 20 percent from last year.

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More good examples in Shafer's piece.

Unfortunately, this outpouring of bogus trend stories is not, in and of itself, a trend. It's always been with us. When regular newsroom staffs are on vacation, so are the newspapers.

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