Trend-Spotting Men, Leading Women, and (the End of?) the Roving Reporter

Like doing math and selling magazines, capturing the zeitgeist is hard.

But week in and week out, the newsweeklies must try to publish cover stories that — if they don’t get people talking — are, at the very least, sort of related to what people are already talking about. Or were talking about six months ago. Or are evergreen enough to be on at least some readers’ minds on any given day.

This week, all three biggies place their cover bets on the cult of personality. For Time, that means Apple CEO Steve Jobs — “The Man Who Always Seems to Know What’s Next” — holding a video iPod. Newsweek opts for Oprah to front its “Women and Leadership” special report. And US News & World Report puts its chips on Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson (if you have to ask, “Who?”)

As part of it’s “What’s Next” theme, Time presents a piece titled “The Road Ahead,” for which it “assembled some of the smartest people we know to identify the trends that are most likely to affect our future.” If you like your “trends” spotted by the likes of “author and New York Times columnist” David Brooks, “pioneering electronic musician” Moby, and “author and New Yorker writer” Malcolm Gladwell, among others, then this is a must-read. If not, perhaps you’d like to try your hand here at matching the “trend-spotter” — Brooks, Moby and Gladwell, in this case — with the “trend” he spots? Here are the “trends” and the answer key is at the end of this post:

1) Elks Clubs are “out.” (“There once were millions of people in Elks Clubs, and Elks Clubs were incredibly diverse.”)

2) There are more and more people like me. (“…I’m finding people who are precisely like me, but there are 10 me’s. There’s [first name of trend-spotter] the football fan, [first name of trend-spotter] the psychology nerd …”)

3) People go online to find “dates.” (“I have a friend whose Swedish mother—she’s in her mid-60s—goes online to meet men! Go back 50 years, and she would have been in her Swedish village, depressed, a bit lonely and sad.”)

But, women are no longer confined to their villages, depressed, a bit lonely and sad, they are in leadership positions in government and business and beyond, Newsweek explains in its “How Women Lead” report (which, in Oprah’s case, we learn has to do with “Living with a capital L.”) Newsweek caught up with several female big-shots — including TV’s Oprah, fashion’s Vera Wang, and the Bush administration’s Karen Hughes —and asked them to talk about “How I Got There” (the accounts are heavy on the “I,” light on the “How”). Our favorite part? A Karen Hughes anecdote that offers some insight into how Hughes regards her underlings — both those who work for her and those in the press, who don’t. “I felt an obligation to speak up and let others know that it was OK for them to make their family a priority, too,” Hughes tells Newsweek. “I used to try and take a ‘midweek moment,’ where I would try to leave the office a little earlier one afternoon a week. When a reporter heard about it and ended up doing a story, I thought it would send a signal to women who were more junior that they could make the same choices.” Because why bother communicating directly with your junior staff when the media will write the memo for you?

And finally, speaking of the boss-underling relationship, you have to feel sorry for the worker-bees at WABC-TV. As New York magazine reports this week, “The station began to install Global Positioning System tracking technology in its mobile news trucks last month,” which can track location as well as “monitor vehicle speed and idling time.” Further, “spokesmen for the local affiliates of NBC and CBS both acknowledged that they are considering similar technology for their news fleets.”

Any bets on which news outlet will be the first to implant tracking devices directly under their reporters’ hides?

Liz Cox Barrett

“Trend-spotting” Answer Key:

1) David Brooks
2) Malcolm Gladwell
3) Moby

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.