A call for homes journalism for the 99%
I am a journalist who has written a weekly column on homes or gardens for eight years. As a result, people often give me copies of the homes sections of other newspapers, and I’m invariably struck by the conspicuous consumption that’s rife in the field. The New York Times‘ Home & Garden section is particularly guilty in this respect, as if the newspaper automatically assumes that its readership is found in the 1% of our population who controls 95% of the wealth. (http://www.nytimes.com /pages/garden/index.html) Although many of the Times’ readers do fall into this select 1%, one would think that at a time when journalism is in deep trouble, beset by competition from online media and the rising costs of production, a newspaper would prefer to present articles that reflect the genuine interests of the vast majority of the population that might conceivably read it. To profile nothing but expensive homes is at best an offhandedly elitist behavior and at worst a vulgar action, like intentionally flaunting diamond rings in front of street beggars.
Think of it this way. New York City is filled with taxi drivers, hair stylists, warehouse workers, loaders and haulers, schoolteachers, restaurant servers, and people who push food carts. The city contains countless actors, singers, buskers, dancers and musicians. There are thousands of transit workers, health care workers, repairmen, construction workers, social services workers and countless other hard-working individuals who all live in the same crowded metropolis and breathe the same air. But despite these myriad numbers of ordinary people, there’s only one Trump (thank goodness), one Bloomberg and a relatively small number of financiers, real estate moguls, diplomats, and corporate CEOs. I have no doubt that in a city of eight million people, there are indeed large numbers of people whose income places them in the 1%, but there are 99 ordinary hard-working people (if not many, many more) for each Trump. Yet the Times directs its journalism only at that one percent at the top. How about a little diversity and inclusiveness, folks?
My own homes column is very different. The majority of its profiles have been real-life houses with real-life issues, often older houses which are finally receiving care or attention after decades. (http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/homes/) Many are “green” in some way. Some are quirky yet beautiful artists’ houses, decorated on a shoestring. Every now and then I’ll spotlight a gorgeous new remodeled kitchen or bathroom in which no expense has been spared; but the operative word is “remodeled”. These are older homes that have received a deserved facelift, not the sparkling and immaculate newly-built homes of the super-wealthy. I could narrow my topics and focus only on my city’s local privileged class; but I prefer to write instead on topics that will strike a chord with and engage the imagination of the ordinary reader. As a result, the column is extremely popular.
New York City has little in common with Bloomington, Indiana, but it seems to me that the New York Times could learn a valuable lesson from the homes section of the Bloomington Herald-Times. There is indeed interest, uniqueness and drama to be found in tales of ordinary people’s homes. But whenever I peruse a copy of the Times’ home section, I feel as though I am completely divorced from their reality, because their reality seems to consist of millionaires’ homes in which a team of decorators and finishers have united to create a modern palace for a privileged individual. But what has that to do with a genuine home?
Consider the recent British movie, “The Trip,” with Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden, in which the two go on a trip of England’s North Country while engaging in a peculiar form of competitive friendship. At the end of the trip they part and go off to their separate homes. Rob’s small and crowded row-home is occupied by a wife and a baby, and everything inside it sings out “home”; whereas Steve’s impressive penthouse has a fabulous view and is perfectly decorated, but it’s empty, devoid of other human life and lacking any sense of homeliness. It’s a space that’s designed to impress outsiders, but his life inside this penthouse is pathetic and lonely. The New York Times Home & Garden staff ought to watch the end of this film and consider it carefully. A more democratic approach to housing articles is definitely in order for the Times. After all, we who comprise the 99% are becoming quite tired of peeping through the palace gates at the royalty within.