By Tracy Dingmann
Ah, the beloved trends piece. Like the time-honored weather story and the local candidate Q & A, it is but one of many mandatory products that fill the pages of a daily newspaper.
Even though most people tend to go elsewhere for entertainment news now, local newspapers still include trends stories as one of those things they think they need to keep readers happy.
And I say this as a former trends reporter who was constantly on the lookout for a valid story – and was very happy whenever I found one I thought truly resonated.
At their best, trends stories can highlight something new that people are doing…maybe in a distant city, or maybe right in the area. When done right, a trends story can inform readers about a legitimate societal or cultural trend that affects or could affect readers’ lives.
When a trends reporter uncovers a trend that intersects with an actual breaking story or news hook, he or she usually has a real winner.
But when they’re not researched well, trends stories can end up looking suspicious, forced, or just plain bogus. Inside the journalism industry, such bogus trend stories are tracked with vigor and glee.
I think that’s the case with the trends story that ran with the Journal’s health care coverage on March 29.
“Youths Cling to Parents in More Ways Than Before,” reads the story, which appears alongside two negatively-cast news stories on the recently-passed health care overhaul. (Sorry, I cannot locate the link on the paper’s website…you are on your own!)
The story, by Washington Post writer Ian Shapira, begins with the tale of a 22-year old whose parents regularly make dinner for her and prepare her taxes.
“Soon, thanks to the health care reform act President Obama signed into law Tuesday, (the 22-year-old) can piggyback on her parents in one more way: as a dependent on her mother’s health plan.”
That characterization seems a little bit judgmental – of the 22-year old, if nothing else.
The story continues, in the writer’s voice:
“In its bureaucratic way, the government’s restructuring of health care sets a new starting point for independent adulthood: no longer at age 18 or 21, but deep into the 20’s.”
Whoa! Now that’s way judgmental – not to mention extremely hyperbolic.
So the writer believes the fact that government health care is now available to 26-years olds through their parents plans means we have now redefined the age of adulthood in America? That’s a pretty heavy claim to toss out unchallenged – especially in a trends story!
And how about acknowledging the whole logic behind extending health care to 26 year olds? It wasn’t to make depending on mummy and daddy easier for pampered, perfectly-healthy adults, as the writer would seem to want us to believe. It was to provide continuing medical care to young adults who, in many cases, were desperately, chronically ill and not eligible for other care. If you attended any of the Medicaid hearings last December in New Mexico (I did, and it was sad) or even just paid minimal attention to the battle over health care and what it was about, you’d know that.
And another critically important intent behind extending parental coverage was to lower costs for everyone by allowing a large pool of largely healthy young adults into the insurance pools. But we didn’t read anything about that, either.
Later on, the story quotes a social scientist who remarks that 20-somethings are more indeed more dependent on their parents than any previous American generation.
But neither the social scientist – nor anyone else interviewed in this health care trend story, except the writer and the 22-year-old – says a single word about health care.
Many times over the past months, my Journal Watch colleagues have noted that the Journal’s editorials, guest columns and news stories are rabidly slanted against health care reform.
I guess readers should also know that the Journal’s bias extends to running bogus trends stories as well.