News ageism

We’ve learned how to write about race, religion, ability and sexual
orientation…so why are reporters so insensitive when writing anyone over 50?

On his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, Alan D. Mutter writes:

“With most newspapers drawing more than half their audience from people
who are 55 years of age and older, you would think they would avoid
insulting those readers. But you would be wrong.”

“A couple examples of Chronological Incorrectness occurred over the weekend in the New York Times, which is widely regarded as one of the most carefully edited papers in the land. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. So, listen up, whippersnappers.

“In the first instance of Chronological Incorrectness, the paper gratuitously stated that an 84-year-old woman quoted in a story was “lucid.” 

The full sentence reads: “The woman, Gloria Bullard – vivacious and lucid at 84 and living in South Caroline – still treasures her tiny spot in history.”

Mutter writes:

“Unless otherwise noted, I presume everyone interviewed for a New York Times article – as well as the journalist conducting the interview – is indeed lucid. To go out of the way to state that someone north of 55 is lucid is to buy into the decidedly false assumption that she is a doddering geezette.

“That is flat-out insulting to this individual and all her peers, who also, hands down, happen to be the most faithful customers that newspaper publishers have.

“The second instance of Chronological Incorrectness in the Times occurred on the front page of the business section on Sunday in a story about how new management is trying to revive the Archie comic franchise. “At 68,” said the article, “Archie is suddenly looking awfully spry.”

“Although the reference to the comic character was lighthearted, the use of the word “spry” is offensive, because it buys into the proposition – quite often unfounded – that those north of 55 are likely to be physically feeble or infirm.”

Not smart marketing, considering the largest audience for online news closely resembles print subscribers: over 50.

“Greg Harmon of Belden Interactive, the foremost expert on consumer behavior at newspaper websites, has found in hundreds of surveys across the country that newspaper web visitors look exactly like consumers of the print product.

“The reason for this is that newspaper site visitors actually are the same people who read the print product – a not-so-fun fact that should shiver the timbers of publishers concerned about the long-term mortality of their predominant customer base. Eventually, you see, even spry people die.”