Monday, November 17, 2008

Kids Eat The Darndest Things!

Susan Dominus, whose "Big City" column makes a pretty persuasive case for taking away the Times's stand-alone metro section, devotes 878 words this morning to 12-year-old Fieldston student David Fishman and his burgeoning career as a food critic.

One can only wonder how Dominus stumbled on this yarn; was she, coincidentally, eating at Salumeria Rosi on Amsterdam last week, when the apparently privileged young upper West Side prep school student forked over $25 for some prosciutto and an arugula salad? Or did some friendly publicist for the new restaurant recount the episode to her later? If so, congratulations to the flack for seeing a Times column in the making.

Did a photographer just happen to be on hand, too? Because there's a huge photo of Fishman accompanying the column -- remarkable for an event we're led to believe was the spontaneous result of his parents having to work late, and sending their son to the corner for some hummus.

Dominus told it so straight that you wouldn't know that we're in a huge economic downturn, making the very notion of a new restaurant itself more newsworthy than this precocious pre-teen. But that would never have been as colorful a story as this. As the boy took notes on the experience -- "he has some vague notion that he could make a living writing for the Zagat guides," Dominus tells us -- diners chatted with him, the chef paid a visit, and customers reportedly even stopped ogling Tony Danza. Imagine that!

If it seems a little odd for a Times metro columnist to focus, during a time of hardship, on the funny quirks of the rich and their offspring, that's only because you haven't been paying attention to Dominus. In recent weeks she's covered the making of a documentary about private-school admissions, remembrances of grocery-store shopping in France, nostalgia among displaced 1980s Park Slope kids, a woman whose $1 million Williamsburg condo had its view ruined by construction, and an Hermes sample sale.

Are Dominus's columns counter intuitive, clever and well-written? Not often enough. Are they also likely displacing more important stories about the conflicts, dramas and human crises now transforming this city? Far too often.

There comes a point when the Times needs to be more sensitive to the embarrassment its rich readers feel at being fed stories about themselves. It's time for Dominus to retire her addiction to superficial human interest stories about urban upper middle class life, and recognize how complex and diverse the "Big City" she covers really is.

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