Writing Boots correspondent Jason Green sent me a perfectly rendered and painfully heartfelt 2,000 word account of the last day of a doomed Bloomington, Ind. Waffle House restaurant. The rarity of that Indiana Daily Student piece reminded me of something I wrote four years for Huffington Post ago about "the socially catastrophic demise of the light feature story."
I purposely wrote the headline to sound hysterical. But was it? I went on to say that the loss of investigative reporting isn't the only tragedy in journalism's decline. What about the tradition of lovingly reported feature stories that make faceless little people vivid and big for a day, every day?
Once all these types of stories cease to be published, I worry
we'll have lost the shared understanding and celebration of Chicago as
an infinitely unpredictable, loving, misguided, charming, ugly, pretty
and charismatic city. … Tucked into the hard stuff about the pols and businesspeople and
celebrities who dominate Chicago news, a celebration of the equal truth
that those people don't dominate Chicago people—that we unselfconsciously flit through our lives singing own odd tunes, happy and sad and funny and mad.
Maybe what is best about stories like the Waffle House feature isn't the stories themselves, but the reality that there is a journalist—in this case Jessica Contrera—willing to work as hard getting to know this microscopic pocket of the world as Christiane Amanpour strains to learn about Iran's nuclear program, or Piers Morgan finagles to get Miley Cyrus to come on his program. And that there's still an institution inclined and financially able to disseminate the story she produces, along with a photograph of the Waffle House being torn down.
The very existence of such journalism says something good to all members of a society, about all members of a society.
Just as its decreasing frequency says the opposite.