The Times’ 9/11 Laptop Story

Dan Barry’s story in the Times today about writings by a victim of 9/11 that her North Dakota family only discovered in the last two months, having put off looking in her laptop as long as they could, was a sad and moving piece, the kind readers gravitate to before they have to swallow their Iraq and Iran. No wonder it was on the front page. Good reporting. I have a nit to pick. Barry made us wait nearly ten inches to read the late Ann Nelson’s prose: a list of goals in life that the 30-year-old Cantor Fitzgerald trader had begun, and titled “Top 100.” She had gotten as far as resolution #36 (“Learn about wine”) before she died. Evidently, Barry and his editors decided that the laptop angle—how it got to North Dakota, how long mom put off opening it, etc.—was worth the long wait. Or maybe they felt that her list was anticlimactic in its homely simplicity. (“1. Be healthy/healthful… 11. Never be ashamed of who I am.”) But the effect was that a reader had to navigate a lot of emotional prose about the bereaved’s response to the victim’s computer before Ann Nelson got to speak, posthumously. I think that was a mistake. Nelson’s words are straightforward and wise, and deserved a higher place amid Barry’s (more ornate) prose. The story should have begun with them, a taste anyway, then broken off to the laptop narrative.

P.S. Some readers are going to say I’m picking on Barry, who I criticized last week. O.K.—I’ll move on.