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posted: 9/5/2013 5:00 AM

The 'More or Less Diet' and the online news cycle

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Yes, that headline is deliberately gratuitous. Here's why:

Ron Fournier, a national political commentator and former Associated Press executive, tweeted the following on Wednesday morning: "Political take on #Syria: It will dominate Sept news cycles including today's, which culd have/should have been focused on Clinton-Obamacare," (@ron_fournier)

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I chuckled to myself. I had just left a news meeting in which we learned that the most popular story on the Daily Herald's website, www.dailyherald.com, in August was "Don Mauer puts 'The 8-Hour Diet' to the test." The column has been among the top-viewed stories at our site nearly every day since it was published in late March. I think it's obvious what dominates the news cycle, and it's neither Syria nor Clinton-Obamacare.

OK, that's an exaggeration, but it's worth mentioning that in that same news meeting, Teresa Schmedding, deputy managing editor for online news, observed how little attention Syria is getting from readers at dailyherald.com. Some of that, no doubt, is because, as a primarily local news venue, we many not be the first source many readers think of when looking for depth and variety on foreign affairs. But, we're probably not the first place serious dieters turn to for advice and inspiration, either.

Still, in addition to our local focus, we are a comprehensive news source, so readers can and do get key details about events of all types from around the globe from us, and, as anyone who follows our letters to the editor knows, they are eager to engage in conversation and share their ideas about national and international issues.

It's just that, along with serious topics of local and national import, they also apparently are very concerned about their weight. This comes as no big surprise, of course. Scores of books are published every year about dieting and nutrition, though I think the word nutrition is thrown in there just to dress up the subject with a little highbrow caché. All people really care about is the dieting part.

Having noticed this, I once conceived the idea for the ultimate diet book. Entitled the "More or Less Diet," reflecting both the contents of the diet and the cavalier effort most people actually put into dieting, it would comprise about 100 pages, each containing nothing other than some variation of one of these phrases: Either "Exercise more" or "Eat less." Should you be interested in dieting, you could turn to any page upon your whim of the moment and get the basic idea that thousands of diet books have spent millions of words trying to impart over the years.

I realize I've strayed somewhat from the topic of news judgment and public appeal, but inasmuch as I've previously professed that we could seriously enhance the "make money" portion of our motto if we published more stories about puppies and nudity, I thought it worth taking the time to add dieting to that list. Plus, it allowed me to get the word "diet" into my headline, which can't do any harm to the chances this column will one day reach our website's list of most viewed stories.

To be sure, I could have talked about Syria today. In all seriousness, the ramifications of that nation's heartbreaking civil war justify the topic dominating the news cycle, even over a subject as ignored and overlooked (ha!) as Obamacare. But amid all the gravity of this week's conversations, I thought a light change of pace couldn't hurt anything -- an attitude that may explain a lot about how, in the midst of a constantly changing stream of crises, causes and tragedies, a little column about dieting can consistently remain among the stories people turn to every day.

It's comfort food, I guess.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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