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Beware the Brag Sheet

There’s a paper in Louisville, The Community, that serves the city’s Jewish population. It features stories about Israel, news about happenings around town, and things like Bar and Bat Mitzvah and wedding announcements. Matt and I call it The Jewspaper in a rather mocking tone even though I still skim it, look over pictures from parties I’d never be invited to or want to attend*, and have even written an article or two for it.

A regular column in the Jewspaper is the “Newsmakers”, a feature in which proud parents, grandparents, and the occasional aunt or uncle writes in to brag about the accomplishment of their family members. It’s usually someone winning admission or an award to a professional society, someone joining a new law or accountancy firm, or someone graduating from college or graduate school.

I think I’ve only been in the Jewspaper as a subject three times, in the “Lifecycle” section, for my Bat Torah, my marriage, and Simon’s birth. I have dim recollections of mom wanting to include a notice for college or my master’s graduation, but I’m not sure if they ever got placed as I would have been against it. I’m generally against all notices like this for reasons that are hard to express. Yesterday’s glance at the “Newsmakers” column brought my reticence into focus.

Things start as I’ve come to expect, with a medical school graduation. They proceed on to friends who have opened a Jewish matchmaking service called JMom.com. I blanched at this one, embarrassed that it exists. Moving right along, someone has become president of the Toastmasters, and someone else had graduated high school. (We’re doing entries for high school now? Really?) And so the mundane collection of professional and pre-professional successes goes until the last entry:

Jeffrey Gettleman …. won a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. He has been the East African Bureau Chief for the New York Times for the past five years… The Pulitzer jury commended Gettleman for his ‘vivid reports, often at personal peril, on famine and conflict in East Africa, a neglected but increasingly strategic part of the world.’ … [H]is work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, and GQ. He has also appeared as a commentator on CNN, BBC, PBS, NPR, and ABC, most recently on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross and PBS’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. He was kidnapped outside Falluja Iraq, in 2004, and in eastern Ethiopia with his wife Courtenay, in 2007.

Accompanying this notice is a photo depicting a man who looks equal parts serious and dashing with Mr. Gettleman resembling a younger, more Semitic Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s Sebastian Junger, hottie journalist with chops, all over again.

Now this,  unequivocally, is newsworthy. As is the notice about two U of L researchers who just won a grant to continue work using electrical stimulation to help paralyzed patients stand and walk again. The rest is the news from Lake Wobegon, a place where we can brag about all of our above average children. It’s not that I fault folks for wanting to brag. I brag about Simon all the time! But perhaps restraint when it comes to published bragging is in order. Or at least an understanding that all accomplishments are not newsworthy. I’m thinking that if The Courier Journal would have charged you to print it, it may not qualify as news in the strictest sense.

Ideally, Mr. Gettleman’s impressive accomplishments will serve as a cautionary tale for all. Does your child’s being valedictorian (one of tens of thousands in the country) or finishing in 15th place in the county in the 1500 meter track and field event look a bit silly next to a Pulitzer Prize winner? If so, you just might want to save it for the next dinner party, bridal shower, or Bar Mitzvah (or non-commercial blog). And if you are not sure when that chance might come, you can find a list of such events two pages later in the very same paper.

*I certainly recognize most of the folks pictured; a few are fellow KIP parents, some are old classmates of mine, and three of the regularly featured members of the Jewish A-listers are Simon’s doctors and dentist. Plus, I am mysteriously drawn to the (to me) foreign world of society pages. When I lived in San Francisco, I spent many an hour in semi-serious consideration of The Nob Hill Gazette.

3 Responses to “Beware the Brag Sheet”

  1. Amanda says:

    I have that same, vague disquiet about those “my kid is a at so and so school” or have kids’ names and team numbers on the car. Or the people who publish their accomplishments in my college newsletter. I was an honors student. My mother *expected* me to be an honors student, given my level of intelligence (which I fully and readily admit was a consequence of the genetic lottery and not anything in particular I did or deserved). Thus she would never have one of those bumper stickers, as that was what I was supposed to be doing. A greek friend finds this ridiculous, as do I. But then I haven’t been to any one of my own graduations since high school. I think being proud of your kid is great, and you should be if your kid does things to make you proud. But this public, over-the-top (to me) bragging about one’s offspring, or one’s self particularly, seems a little much.

  2. blg says:

    Is Jeffrey Gettleman from Louisville?

  3. Jessica says:

    @blg: That’s the best/funniest part. He’s from Chicago I think; the news item was placed by his aunt and uncle. Having said that, if this were my out-of-town niece or nephew, I’d likely pull the same stunt. I can forgive a lot of bragging when there’s a Pulitzer, 2 kidnappings, and extreme handsomeness involved.

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