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Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Matt1735, Aug 13, 2014.

  1. Matt1735

    Matt1735 Well-Known Member

    Having a discussion in my shop (trade magazine, not newspaper, although we do report news along with features and educational columns)

    What is the value of people's ages in features and columns?

    Please offer your opinions on what it adds or if it isn't needed or shouldn't be there.
  2. FileNotFound

    FileNotFound Well-Known Member

    It goes a long way toward determining a person's credibility when speaking on a particular subject. For instance, if Some Body, 46, is talking about his experience selling widgets in 1980, it gives the reader a chance to determine, "Hey, Mr. Body was in junior high in 1980." It's also important as an identifying detail, especially in a column or profile.
  3. Riptide

    Riptide Well-Known Member

    Also, because details count. Age should be in almost every story.
    Near the top, too. Establish the identifying characteristics early.
  4. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Not before race. [/YankeeFan]
  5. Editude

    Editude Active Member

    Along with middle initials, age is another detail we can't seem to get enough of. That makes getting them wrong in obituaries especially unfortunate.
  6. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    It's not mandatory in every story, and indeed sometimes looks ridiculous if you include it.

    If it adds context, include the age. If it's not critical, leave it out.

    • Adds context: "This is the worst drought I've ever seen," said John Smith, an 87-year-old Farmville native.

    • Leave it out: "We had no other options than to close the factory," said Podunk Industries CEO Mary Jones, 48.

    If you're writing a feature about somebody, then, yes, include the age if you can. Readers want to get a better idea of who you're writing about. Ideally, in a feature story, you'll avoid dropping someone's age the same way you'd toss it into a news story. Try to find something that makes the age relevant to your story, rather than a random, parenthetical fact.
  7. Roscablo

    Roscablo Well-Known Member

    I wrote a feature on a women's bowler one time who had done pretty well at various levels. She absolutely refused to give her age -- one of those people that are embarrassed by it, whatever. While it was relevant to the story especially considering there was info on how long she'd been doing it, the leagues she was in, etc. I didn't push her. Why? She doesn't want it, whatever. Her photo accompanied and it's not like there wouldn't be anyone who knows her read it. Conclusions could be drawn. Most probably wouldn't even notice. My editor just would not leave it be. Like it was killing the story. Kept pressing me, her, everyone who would listen. Eventually added a line, "Susie Bowler, who refused to give her age ..." Thought that was kind of over the top. Wonder if that changed her mind on giving ages after that?
  8. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    I think your editor was wrong here, Roscablo, and I think you did the best you could under the circumstances by simply mentioning how long she had been bowling. His/her making you add the line about refusing to give her age was wrong for two reasons:

    • It made her look like she was hiding something, and such a snarky indictment on a light feature -- a feature! -- was just about the worst way to handle it.

    • "Refused" is loaded language unless you're dealing with someone who's accountable to the public; "declined" is a better choice for a private citizen who has that right and that option, and would have given you a more graceful way around it.
  9. Matt1735

    Matt1735 Well-Known Member

    It is a very similar instance — someone declining — that started the discussion here. For the story in question, it's a non-relevant detail (my opinion) but there are some among us who believe it should be in every story.

    Really appreciate the feedback/discussion and hope there's more to come!
  10. MisterCreosote

    MisterCreosote Well-Known Member

    I'd venture to guess the age of a subject is irrelevant 80 to 90 percent of the time.

    EDIT: I should add that ages should be included in things like police blotter because, while they're mostly irrelevant there, too, they serve to clarify the perp's identity.
  11. micropolitan guy

    micropolitan guy Well-Known Member

    It also allows the reader to measure his/her accomplishments (or whatever the story is about) against those of the subject of the story.

    When I read about some 25-year-old whiz kid, it makes me think about what I was doing when I was 25.
  12. albert77

    albert77 Well-Known Member

    The only time I feel like age is an important detail in sports stories is in a feature (and then only if it's truly relevant) and in a coaching hire story, where it gives you a good feel for the person's experience (or lack thereof) and expected maturity level.
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