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Sunday, January 6, 2013

The In's and Out's of 2013

Honey Boo-Boo in or out? What about Bilbo Baggins?
Do you know what will be in this year? What about out? If you're not sure, you can always check out the Washington Post's 2013 In/Out List, put together by Post reporters Monica Hesse and Dan Zak. Yesterday, Hesse and Zak appeared at an Inside Media program at the Newseum to talk about the in's and out's of compiling a widely-read in/out list.

Hesse and Zak acknowledge that the idea of a definitive list is silly, but say they take to their task with a sense of seriousness. ""For as stupid a thing as it is, we do put a lot of time into it," Zak said.

While the 2 reporters often filter the entire year through the idea of in and out topics, the process actually begins in earnest around Thanksgiving. Hesse says there is little reason to start any earlier. "Culture moves so fast today," Hesse said. "Something comes out and 3 days later, everyone is sick of it. Everything has to be able to be dead to you."

One of the first steps for the reporters is to head to a local Barnes and Noble book store, sit down, and scan as many magazines as possible. Hesse said the reporters don't buy the magazines,  but added "we figure all the coffee we drink and all the pastries we eat more than makes up for the cost," she said.

That is followed by more research."We then definitely reach out to colleagues and friends for things we don't know anything about," Zak added.

The pair then begin producing a 1st copy of the list. Some things they remove; others are removed by editors; some simply don't work. This year there were 68 paired items in the final article. That meant that more than 100 pairs never saw print.

Both reporters said they are more interested in the in's than the out's "We look at this as a year beginning list that predicts what will happen," Hesse said. Sometimes they are right on the money. Last year, they called Pippa's bum out and Kate's uterus in. In a related pairing this year, they are calling Blue Ivy out, Her Royal Fetus in.

To help the audience feel even more in, Hesse and Zak explained some of the more confusing or obscure of their choices. For example, they called pundits out and psephologists in. Basically, Zak said that was a way of dissing raving Karl Rove and his like and praising Nate Silver, a statistician who accurately called all 50 states during the recent presidential election. "Its kind of our way of saying that pundits don't matter; statistics give you a better grasp on reality," Zak explained.

Some of the items have a deeper meaning than just what appears on the surface. Take calling George Clooney out and Eva Longoria in. "George Clooney will probably never be out," Zak said. "But in context, of political celebrity advocates, this year will be more Eva than George." 

While many of the items are national in scope, some really only appeal to those living inside the Washington beltway. Hesse cited the 54 bus out, the 70 bus in as such an example. "I live on the 50 bus route. It runs through Columbia Heights and U Street and a lot of areas that have been hip. The 70 bus runs to the Southeast and the waterfront, which is becoming a happening place," she said.

The list is always backed up by some support. This year food trucks were deemed on their way out, to be replaced by hair salon trucks. "There is actually one coming to the city," Hesse said. "And if people are too busy to sit down at a restaurant for lunch, they are probably to busy to sit down in a salon for a styling. It makes you wonder what other type of trucks we'll be getting. The broader idea is that culture is becoming much more mobile."  Then there is the call for urban farming to be replaced with urban hunting. Zak said he read an article where Charlotte, North Carolina was being overrun with deer and would be issuing permits to thin out the herd. "Squirrels of the world, watch out," he said.

Zak and Hesse, as evidenced by their repartee at the Inside Media taping, have a lot of fun compiling the list. But they realize that some of their readers take The List, which they have been in charge of  for the past 4 years, much more seriously than they do.  Once published, complaints begin arriving.

"We might want to tweak the cultural nose, but we don't want to make people angry for no reason," Hesse said. "But we're always looking for backlash. That means people are reading (the list) and it is important to them."

Zak agreed. He said his favorite email ever had the subject line Just Quit. "The Washington Post would be better off printing a blank page," the succinct email said.

Tales,Tidbits, and Tips
The Post actually began printing the list in 1978. It was 1st put together by 2 fashion writers about what to wear and not wear and has grown detailed and diverse over the years. You can check out all the 35 copies of the list by clicking here and checking out the archive box at the top of the page. You can view a mockumentary about the list by clicking here.

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