The final installment in Dan Barry’s five-part, 14,000 word series about a diner in a small Ohio city ran in today’s paper, and public editor Margaret Sullivan used today’s column to commend Mr. Barry on a job well done.
Last year, Times executive editor Jill Abramson encouraged all staff members to go find real Americans and tell their stories, according to Ms. Sullivan. And boy, did Mr. Barry ever!
The good people of Elyria, Ohio, gather over coffee at Donna’s Diner to talk about their struggles to make ends meet. They arrange classic car shows against all odds. They have hopes and dreams and hard times. They are Americans.
“Dan took this almost as a personal assignment,” Chuck Strum, a deputy national editor, told Ms. Sullivan.
“The spirit of the people, their great pride—I was just enchanted,” Mr. Barry said.
But just in case the city-slicker Times readers are having trouble understanding, Mr. Barry helpfully provides a literary context.
“Like characters out of a Thornton Wilder play—or maybe a short story by Sherwood Anderson, who once lived here—the denizens of Middle Avenue play out their roles under the watchful eye of that looming Loomis camera,” Mr. Barry wrote in the final installment.
So, like Our Town, but the characters aren’t dead? We understand. I mean, who didn’t go to Oberlin?
While we may take issue with the pandering tone of the series, the boss is happy. “Ms. Abramson is justifiably pleased with the result,” Ms. Sullivan wrote.
“Elections turn on the balance between the hopes and struggles of the American people,” Ms. Abramson told Ms. Sullivan. “Dan Barry’s vivid reporting on Elyria, Ohio, brilliantly explores this balance at precisely the moment that so much political coverage focuses on candidates rather than the character of the country.”
And Ms. Sullivan agrees. She thinks you should read it.
“It’s well worth spending the time to read all five parts of this remarkable series and see the multimedia effort, too,” wrote Ms. Sullivan.
Since when is the role of the public editor to promote the newspaper and back-pat reporters for doing their jobs? On the flip side, it could be a great blurb in those Times commercials.