The appropriateness of context

A friend recently shared a curious email from our mutual and beloved professor, Bob Dardenne, who passed away a few months back. In it, Dr. Dardenne mentions downing three bloody marys and the worst-played hole 17 ever.

Curiosity drew me to the archives of my own email, where I found this passage from Dr. Dardenne. It's a fine example of one of his defining concepts: In a fast world, we must slow down and consider.

I think we ought to consider the appropriateness of context. A couple of you said the current book could be done in 30 or 40 pages; or, it could be as effective as a synopsis. This, of course, is the same thing I'm hearing about news itself; that is, the Tweet is enough, or 200 words is enough, or whatever is enough. We ought to talk about "enough for what"? Do we argue that we all come with our own contexts, so all we need are facts? Or that we don't require contexts for some other reason? Or that our contexts will develop with enough facts? Or what?

If all information and data are becoming "content," does it matter what kind of content it is? We used to say that TV programs were, essentially, "content" to fill in the time slots between ads. I guess all of this gets to the question of what is the role of news and do we need it? Is news just "content"? Does news require context?

Supermarkets are hives of interesting people and homes to some of America’s best stories

I wrote this piece for an undergraduate editing class with Charles Anzalone a few years back. It was heavily influenced by Gay Talese's short story, "New York Is a City of Things Unnoticed." Anzalone turned me on to Talese, whose work became influential on my writing.

Supermarkets are hives of interesting people and homes to some of America’s best stories. They are given attention only when refrigerators and cupboards run empty, ensuring that many of their most interesting aspects go unnoticed. They are a place where counterfeiters hone their skills, major health violations go unnoticed, and strawberries and bananas end their thousand-mile trips, only to wind up in rusted shopping cards and plastic bags. Nobody notices that the fruits have come from far-off Caribbean shorelines or that they have been injected with stabilizing chemicals to keep them alive during their travels, just like nobody notices the teenagers that make love in the break rooms or the man who uses the same tired joke on every cashier.