Text vs. image: The New York Times has a sort of character essay this morning on father and son farmers in Lebanon, Kansas (the geographic center of the lower 48 states). It’s a good enough piece, though it tries to do too much–relate the end of a way of life and a son’s break with his father–with too little–maybe 500 words. As it happens, the text is accompanied by a video version of the piece. The story follows much the same outline, but it’s different: For one thing, you get to hear and see the reporter play his role, gently prompting a couple of the the answers the son gives in the story. You also get to see the way the dad plays to the camera when he’s talking to the son. At the same time, the father and son come off as more compelling characters; the kid especially seems a little guilty and torn about leaving the farm for school. The video version comes off as the better piece of storytelling; if nothing else, the beautiful visuals make it worth watching.
The other Foley scandal: Let me add my voice to those decrying the emails of former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). I don’t need to rehash the story. But I think something has gone unmentioned in the furor over his come-ons to young congressional pages: His disgraceful prose style. For example, one email read:
“glad your home safe and sound…we dont go back into session until Sept 5,,,,si its a nice long break….I am back in Florida now…its nice here…been raining today…it sounds like you will have some fun over the next five weeks…how old are you now?…”
Maybe the congressman was just trying to adopt the breezy style of instant messaging (“cul8r!”) to demonstrate he was an electronic communications hepcat. His IMs with another page show he was a master of the form (“Maf54 (7:37:27 PM): how my favorite young stud doing”) despite his advanced age and high station. If so, he was going too far. Email accommodates a certain degree of informality–“Hey, guy” can substitute for the stuffy “Dear Hunk,” for example–but it is not an invitation to abandon form altogether, as Foley did. He seems incapable of maintaining a thought long enough to type it.
Foley would have done well to follow the example of one of his young correspondents, who shows an admirable respect for standard orthography and makes a game if less than perfect attempt to employ proper capitalization and punctuation:
“What happened was I gave certain people Thank-you cards, you know? I gave Foley one because he was a really nice guy to me and all. Then, he asked me to write my e-mail on the back of his. So I was like, ‘sure!’ because of course I had no suspicions.”