How Your Trend-Story Sausage Gets Made

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Photo: Getty Images, istockphoto

Ever wonder how it is that New York Times reporters always seem hip to cultural phenomena — man dates, child gourmands, orgasmic meditation, etc. — that seem to have little or no basis in the reality you inhabit? Perhaps you're just not talking to the right people — over and over again.

Yes, it seems that, like lazy journalists everywhere, Times scribes are given to playing dial-a-quote with their personal friends when hammering out a trend story on deadline. Take Los Angeles–based business and entertainment reporter Brooks Barnes. Last November, in a story about Disney's growth as a lifestyle brand, Barnes introduced us to "Lindsay Bern, a makeup artist for Smashbox Cosmetics."

[Bern] was so delighted with a lavender and silver tote bag that she received as a gift from a friend that she started using it immediately. Then, while on an airplane, a flight attendant commented on her ''Alice in Wonderland'' bag. ''I thought she was crazy until I started looking at it more closely, and, sure enough, there was a subtle Alice hiding in the design,'' Ms. Bern said.

Could this Lindsay Bern be the same person as the "avid moviegoer" who provided Barnes with the lede of a piece ten months earlier?

Ms. Bern, the co-owner of a Los Angeles recording studio, has recently become irritated by what she sees as a disturbing trend on the big screen: the obliteration of New York City.


In particular, she has been annoyed by ''I Am Legend,'' the Warner Brothers hit that stars Will Smith in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, and ''Cloverfield,'' the Paramount film about a monster that implodes the Empire State Building, tears down the Brooklyn Bridge and generally reduces the city to a smoking pile of rubble and despair.


''Can't they destroy another city for once?'' Ms. Bern said in an interview at a local movie theater. ''It's despicable that the studios are using the destruction of New York to sell movies to me.''

And could it be the same Lindsay Bern as the "25-year-old teacher" who, a few years before that, supplied the lede of a Barnes piece in The Wall Street Journal, this one about people who gave up their diets after 9/11?

"If it could all end tomorrow, why am I obsessing over something so shallow?" Bern wonders. She had fudge for breakfast recently. Dinner one night was Popeye's thighs and drumsticks dipped in ranch dressing. "Tomorrow," she said, "I'm thinking corn dogs."

Indeed, it could, considering that Bern and Barnes went to college together in Milwaukee, where Barnes profiled her for the local paper, the Journal-Sentinel.

And while Barnes doesn't quote her in today's trend story on Los Angeles residents who are throttling back their consumerism in light of the recession while still continuing to spend lots of money (or something like that), he does cite the words of one "Chuck Garric, who plays bass for Alice Cooper and Billy Bob Thornton," and who is saving money by eschewing valet parking. Garric, as it happens, is also the sometime owner of the VoiceTrax West recording studio, whose website pictures him with his "partner and fiancee, Milwaukee native Lindsay Bern."

We asked Barnes whether the need to keep relying on the same college friend to support his various theses might suggest a certain, um, insubstantiality to the trends in question. His response:

I think I’ve quoted Lindsay three times over 10 years as a reporter at the WSJ and the NYT, which seems hardly out of line, and in every case she happened to be doing something pertinent to the story. If you have any other questions about my writing, please contact my editor.

At least Barnes has the good manners to credit the friends he leans on for help — unlike a certain other Times writer.