11 Dec 2008 12:20 pm   //   Filed under: Media, Stray data

Chuck E. Cheese fighting enters the conversation

Newspapers and news magazines used to devote a lot of space to social trend stories, about those quirky shifts in how ordinary people go about their lives, spend money, care for their children, get in and out of trouble, etc. The best of these stories come out of nowhere and suddenly become part of the popular conversation. (Malcolm Gladwell’s business book “The Tipping Point,” based on his reporting in The New Yorker, is a famous example of this kind of journalism.)

These days, trend stories are more likely to come from academic studies, government reports or press releases, reducing journalists to the role of summarizers. In many news outlets, the focus on breaking news and cheap analysis (hey, it worked for cable TV!) has pushed thoughtful trend stories off to the margins. It’s also possible that there are fewer mass behavioral trends, since the country is more diverse and fragmented than ever before. Whatever the case, these stories are hard to find, so journalists often have to cast a lot of lines and spend a lot of time to get a good one. Who has the time and money to do that anymore?

But when somebody nails it, they really nail it. If you haven’t read it already, check out this Wall Street Journal story: Calling All Cars: Trouble at Chuck E. Cheese’s, Again.