Commentary

Giving New Meaning to New Journalism

When the U.K. daily The Independent allowed Bono to guest-edit an issue in May, it sold an extra 70,000 copies. Was it because The Independent donated half of all revenues from the issue to Product Red (a Bono-initiated program where companies including Gap, American Express, Motorola and Nike donate revenues from special products to a fund that helps fight poverty and AIDS in Africa) or because Bono edited? Whatever--they'll do it again when Giorgio Armani designs the Sept. 21 issue, which will feature celebrity-written articles by the likes of George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Beyoncé.

There is nothing new in celebrity editors; any number of U.S. magazines have invited in the unschooled as publicity stunts to pump up newsstand sales. But newspapers? With the exception of tabloids that nobody reads for serious journalism anyway, reputable newspapers have generally shied away from such shallow promotional tactics. But who is to say that The Independent isn't on to something? Think of the possibilities:

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The New York Times could invite President Bush to edit an issue in which suddenly the Iraq war won't seem like such a lost cause and the White House won't be the usual confederacy of dunces. Weepy stories on the environment and downtrodden New Yorkers will be replaced by upbeat profiles of kids who were not left behind, or praise for Chevron helping to lessen our dependence on imported oil by discovering homemade crude on a rig with a gigantic hurricane target painted on its side.

USA Today simply must put Ralph Lauren in charge--if only to get rid of that green, red, purple and blue schema in favor of muted earth tones, navy, or maybe classic black-and-white. Moreover, the man on the street will become the woman on the runway--a vast improvement--and stories might run long enough to engage someone who doesn't have ADD.

The Washington Post might invite in Lewis Black, who won't be able to fill the paper with stories leaked from senior-level administration officials trying to advance their own agendas, but it will be considerably funnier to read.

The Los Angeles Times could put Tom Cruise at the controls for an issue that questions the mental clarity of an aging Viacom CEO, who can only be saved by a few doses of Scientology and by avoiding post-partum depression (since it can't be helped by modern medicine, anyway). Six pages of baby pictures can replace the sports section. The business section can be turned over to an analysis of box office returns for certain action films featuring secret agents, fighter pilots or race car drivers.

The Wall Street Journal should give Michael Lewis the reins, so that on the same day we can find out why the Tigers are taking a dive, why your broker makes more money that you do--even though it is his job to make you more money; and how teenagers will use the Internet to bring civilization to its knees.

The Financial Times can invite in anybody they want (as long as they trade out the pink for something a little more butch), since nobody really reads it, but only carries it to impress the other commuters who are playing Donkey Kong on their $3,000 laptops.

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