Rachel the Hack: Miscellany


It’s time for a new installment of Rachel the Hack, an essential guide to understanding Ms. Donadio’s warblings.

There were two items we missed last week, articles composed for the annual “Ideas” issue of the New York Times Magazine: “Straw That Saves Lives” and “Walk-In Health Care”. The question, however, is whether these are genuine ideas or adverts for specific products. Presumably, these blurbs are intended to suggest that Donadio is a socially conscious thinker. But it’s telling that these mini-articles seem less concerned with the social circumstances that frame these articles (respectively, the lack of sanitized water and uninsured medical care) and more interested in journalism-as-advertising copy.

A 10-inch plastic tube — think of it as a reverse snorkel — LifeStraw employs a system of seven filters, some using mesh, some using chemicals, some as fine as six microns (more than 10 times finer than a human hair). The straw costs $3 to make and lasts for a year, filtering two liters of water per day.

This is journalism? It sounds to me like a paragraph stolen verbatim from LifeStraw’s Christmas catalog. Why isn’t Donadio employed at an advertising agency? She’s clearly more enthused by trying to describe the dimensions and pricing of items instead of the one billion people her heart allegedly bleeds for. Alas, such humorless “writers” of this ilk often become critics.

Which brings us to the latest “article” written “By Rachel Donadio” in this week’s NYTBR: a compendium of war book titles selected by other authors. But seeing as how Donadio only “wrote” the introductory paragraph and the one-line bios, this is hardly authorship proper. Sure, Donadio (or one of her fellow editors) did the legwork, solicited the authors, and possibly over-edited their sentences so as to suffocate the life out of them. (You’re really asking me to believe that the lively Anthony Swofford contributed the lifeless sentence, “His portraits are as fresh today as when he first stepped into Vietnam as a Marine infantry officer in 1965?”) Why then the need for a personal credit? Is there some kind of end-of-the-year article quota that Donadio has to fill before her annual review? If so, we hope Donadio gets a nice bonus for dulling the NYTBR‘s great promise!

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