This NYT article, about an insanely popular public-sex spot in a small town in England, does not attempt to answer its most interesting question:
Unhappily for many people here, it is also famous for being featured on lists of good places to go “dogging” — that is, to have sex in public, sometimes with partners you have just met online, so that others can watch. So popular is the woodsy field below the ridge as a spot for gay sex (mostly during the day) and heterosexual sex (mostly at night) that the police have designated it a “public sex environment.”
Why are gays on the day shift and straights on the night shift? How did that tradition develop? Do any "doggers" get quoted on the subject? No. This may seem like a stupid criticism, but following little questions like that lead to lovely projects like Eli's feature this week: Why is a judge with a pretty swingin' attitude towards hetero sex insisting that homos are inherently bad parents? Or this story by Michael Smith of Bloomberg: How did legit U.S. banks get so tied up with illicit Mexican narco-bucks?
Or this, which came out of the NYT and other papers reporting that this weird new cutting agent in cocaine, called levamisole, was making people sick. None of the reports, however, even attempted to ask why this cutting agent was being used if a) it makes people sick, b) it's not as cheap as flour or sugar or whatever, and I won't bore you with c) and d) here, but if you're curious, you can read the thing.
(I realize that it seems insanely egotistical to link to a light-hearted story, criticize a tiny piece of it, and then link to something I've written as an example of How Things Should Be Done. Sorry. I'm Andy Rooney on crystal meth, both grumpy and self-centered.)
It drives me a little crazy when journalists report something counter-intuitive or just odd and fail to ask what the hell is going on. Isn't attempting to figure out what the hell is going on—being curious, noticing discrepancies and unanswered questions, and then relentlessly pursuing the answers—our job?
SPJ and similar organizations could help save journalism by not hosting luncheons and conventions where people auto-fellate themselves and wonder aloud how they feel about the dissolution of the fourth estate (two words, people: "confused" and scared"—that's how you feel) and blowing their budget on a big, nice, drug-friendly hotel for reporters and editors, bowls full of ecstasy and psilocybin and booklets of brain-teasers. They could remind reporters and editors how to be curious again.
All the web-interactive-Facebook-phone apps and other 21st-century Tinkertoys in the world aren't going to save journalism. Find a question or a fact that makes a reasonable person wonder "what the fuck?" Then attempt to answer the question, by any means necessary. Go places that your readers don't have the time or inclination to go: scary apartments full of sketchy people, jail, the library.
Be curious. Make them curious. Go looking. Then tell 'em what you found.
And if journalism isn't about that, screw it. I'll pack it in and finally realize my dream of becoming a merchant marine.
All that said, the NYT article has some great details about one of the most popular public-sex spots in England. Like this:
Britons are a tolerant bunch, and most probably would not care who watched whom doing what in whatever configuration, as long as they all went somewhere else. Why, Puttenham residents wonder, do they have to do it 400 yards from the village nursery school?”
“We have nothing against gays or whoever it is up there,” said Lydia Paterson, who lives here. “It’s just the principle of, ‘What on earth is going on?’”
Residents have been pressing the authorities to do something, arguing that the government should simply close the rest stop that provides access to the offending field, just off the busy A31 road. That way, people hoping to have sex would have nowhere to park.
But local government officials refused, saying closing it would unfairly penalize motorists who genuinely wanted just to rest and would deprive the owner of the Hog’s Back cafe, also at the rest stop, of his livelihood.
Alternative suggestions, discussed at a recent meeting of the Surrey County Council Cabinet, included deploying rangers to patrol the site on horseback; encouraging hikers to roust doggers with actual dogs; and filling the field with potentially bad-tempered bulls.
“It was like, ‘Are you taking this seriously?’ ” Ms. Paterson said. “One cabinet member said, ‘If you close this site, there could be an increase in suicides because these people have nowhere else to go.’ ”
Some older residents sympathize with the council. “Honestly, it’s been going on for so many years,” said Jennifer Debenham, 71, a customer at the Good Intent.
Referring to a nearby village, an elderly man at the bar piped up, “At Wisley, there are two sites, one for males and one for heteros.”
Mrs. Debenham said, “I think we should just let them get on with it.”
The man added, “If you want to find out more, just put ‘dogging’ into your search engine.”
What lovely, humane words about the public-sex issue in the tiny town of whateverit'scalled. Thank you for digging those up, NYT reporter Sarah Lyall, and thank you for filing this story at all.
I just wish someone could tell us why the gays hump in the daylight and the straights hump under the stars.