Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Headlines

For 40 years now, I've been marking the end of each year by taking a picture of newspaper front pages and magazine covers from the previous year. Originally they served as a sort of bookmark in my photo albums; nowadays, the only photos I print out for putting in albums are the best ones from vacations, but I've kept up the habit anyway.

The choice of reviewing a year this way tends to skew what stories are included. The Greek default crisis, for example, didn't make banner headlines in the newspapers in my corner of America. Silvio Berlusconi's resignation wasn't the top story of November 8 as far as midwestern editors were concerned, either. The independence of South Sudan was below the fold, if not on a back page.

Stock market plunges and rises in unemployment make headlines; economic recovery (or stagnation) rarely does. The end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? Almost a non-event once it finally happened. Marriage equality in New York? I don't get any New York newspapers here. Well, I can find the New York Times, but their headlines are seldom legible in these photographs.

Disasters usually make headlines, unless they happen on a Saturday night after the Sunday paper has gone to print. Monday's headline may be something tangential, such as "President Promises Aid Package." Even if the disaster is fresh, my local newspaper figures everyone has already heard about it on cable news and Facebook, so its headline is either the number of dead (in spite of the fact that the number is bound to have changed between press time and finding the paper on your doorstep) or some pull quote like "It Was Terrible!"

Other stories unfold over the course of several months. As significant as were Wisconsin's protests against Governor Walker and his Republican putsch -- and similar protests in Ohio -- and the Occupy protests -- it seems unfair to give them the same weight as the protests in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. (To say nothing of the protests in Bahrain, Yemen, and those in Tunisia that sparked them all... and these headlines indeed say nothing about them.) Time's "Person of the Year" cover will have to suffice.

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