Cartoonist Takes Over Business Section Of Newspaper

Of course you want to be happy in 2014! Doesn’t everybody?

Let me save you some time and eyestrain. Don’t bother reading the “happiness” story referred to in the previous post.

I won’t even name the formerly great newspaper. It’s too embarrassing. (Hint: The newspaper’s flag at one time included the words “And Times-Herald.” Jeff Bezos owns the paper now.)

To his credit, the author of the piece, Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip “Dilbert,” is totally, completely honest.

The first sentence of his story is:

“I have no expertise whatsoever on the topic of happiness.”

Case closed. The headline “Read this if you want to be happy in 2014” is a sucker-punch.

The mystery is, why is the “happiness” story on the front of the Sunday Business section? Why is the top half of the Business page devoted entirely to a cartoon, including a dog holding a plate of French fries?

Twenty years ago — ten years, even — self-respecting newspapers would have rejected this story. If a newspaper had to run it — a story about happiness, fitness and nutrition — it would have been relegated to the inside of the Lifestyle section.

You would expect the Sunday Business page to be devoted to an in-depth analysis of economic indicators for 2014, or a recap of the banner year just turned in by Wall Street. I know, you don’t believe it. You want proof:

Post Biz

Yes, Virginia, the headline was better than the story. This happens all the time, because the copy desk editors write the headlines, and they’re usually smarter than the reporters who write the copy. I’ve been guilty of a headline that’s better than the story myself, more than once.

Mr. Adams’ honest first sentence is followed by 40 boring inches of copy in which he explains his simple-minded equation:

Happiness = Health + Freedom

Arrange your life so you have a “flexible” schedule, thereby creating “freedom,” and “happiness” will follow.

Here’s an example of the information contained in this long and boring article. You have to be “in the mood” to exercise. Scott Adams actually says that, and tries to make it sound scientific.

A person in my family, who shall remain nameless, once told me, “You have to be in the mood to study.” I replied:

“You’ve got it exactly backwards. You have to study every day, whether you’re in the mood or not.”

Freedom is a wonderful. But to deserve the privilege of freedom, you need to practice discipline.

Turning from fitness to nutrition, Scott Adams offers this advice:

“It’s never a good idea to take health tips from cartoonists.”

He then proceeds to the principle:

“Anything that requires willpower is unsustainable in the long run.”

Which is followed by a long list of recommendations for a nutritious diet. The copy editor who wrote the headline should have edited this 40 inches of drivel down to 15 inches. That would have left room to reprint several Dilbert comic strips, which would have at least had entertainment value.

One other paragraph in the happiness article is worth lampooning. But it’s a serious matter. It concerns a “homeless guy” and a “billionaire.” It’s the sort of mistake they used to pay copy editors to keep out of the paper. Maybe I should think twice before I take on a superstar cartoonist and a formerly great newspaper.

Read the conclusion to this story here.

Later. Right now I’m going to the mall, to walk. Because it’s too miserable a day to walk outdoors.

— John Hayden

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Filed under Journalism 101, Life

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