Media Monday: WaPo's 'The List' is still in, apparently
- Zak and Hesse: larger than life. (Photo: TBD Staff)
Barnes & Noble is not the last remaining nationwide bookstore chain with a location in D.C. There is at least one other: Books-a-Million in Dupont Circle. Also, Zak said, "We love being validated" (not "We love being vindicated") and he says he doesn't actually buy the magazines at Barnes & Noble (for shame!).
For more than three decades now, the Washington Post has been publishing "The List," its annual determination of what's "in," culturally speaking, and what's "out." You might think that after existing for an eternity, and with the proliferation of year-end lists in the media, "The List" itself would be out. But if a discussion led by its authors, Dan Zak and Monica Hesse, at the Newseum last Friday is any indication, "The List" remains as in as ever.
When I arrived shortly before the event was scheduled to begin, the museum's Knight TV Studio was already above capacity; some 150 people had gotten there before me. So I joined several other disappointed latecomers in watching a simulcast on the atrium's stadium-sized screen, all the better to note the fine stitching of Zak's gray cardigan and the detailed pattern of Hesse's plum scarf. Here are a few things I learned during their 40-minute discussion.
"The List" is not a year-end list, but a year-beginning list. It is meant to be prescriptive, not descriptive, Zak said, in that it doesn't look back at 2011, but forward to 2012. That's why the "overexposed" Ryan Gosling is out, and the soon-to-be-overexposed Michael Fassbender is in. This "news" has, understandably,upset a few women, but Zak and Hesse are standing their ground on this one. As journalists, they're unswayed by public opinion and searing beauty.
Everything is by design, everything in its right place. "The order of this is intentional as well," Zak said. That is, there's a reason "lobbyists" (out) and "paid historians" (in) are followed by "Groupon" (out) and "coupons" (in). Don't see the connection? That's probably because you're not smart enough. "The List" contains so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what Zak and Hesse meant.
"The List" is the result of hours of heavy research. In preparing it, Zak and Hesse go to Barnes & Noble and buy a copy of every magazine on the shelf. That they're allowed to file such an extravagant expense report is proof of the Post's dedication to "The List," trust in Zak and Hesse, and support for the last remaining nationwide bookstore chain that exists in D.C. Meanwhile, we digital journalists must make do with this awfully limited thing called the Internet.
Zak and Hesse do, or do not, take "The List" seriously. "We take ourselves very seriously," Zak said, but he was smirking. Then again, he seems always to be smirking. But given that he was the only notable Washingtonian to have the good humor to thank us for our holiday gift to him, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. As for Hesse, she said, "It's not meant to change lives." Just so we're all clear on that.
Zak has impeccable facial hair. I don't know how he does it, but in every photo, and the few times I've seen him in person, his scruff is always the exact same length, a perfect two-day shadow. I know of no clippers that accomplish such a feat, so I can only assume that he was born this way — and that, therefore, his birth was not a particularly comfortable one for his mother.
Near the end, Zak explained that "trapeze lessons" were out, and "flying lessons" in, because it seemed everyone he knew had signed up for trapeze lessons last year. "No one looks good trying to learn how to fly on a trapeze," he said. But flying a plane? Pretty cool, he said. His powers of cultural divination were proven seconds later, when an audience member informed him she had recently signed up for flying lessons.
"We love being validated," Zak told her. "Thank you."
The discussion ended and I went to the bathroom. Two men walked in, having just left the Knight TV Studio.
"Well that was fun," said one.
"Yeah," said the other. "I've never read 'The List,' but I guess I'll have to now."
On my way out of the building, I saw that visitors were invited to post their own ins and outs on three fabric boards near the exit. As a joke, I wrote "The List" on a piece of construction paper and pinned it under "Out." Less than a minute later, I heard a young man laugh and say, "Look, 'The List' is out. That's my favorite." He asked the woman supervising the displays how he could contribute. She told him he could add his own item, or pin a star next to one he agreed with. He chose the latter, pinning a star next to my paper and repeating, to no one in particular, "'The List' is out."
After the jump: FishbowlDC's latest obsession, Dave McKenna's departure, and two weeks' worth of media links.
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