A Replenishing “Oasis”—Bus Plunges

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I found it interesting that “bus plunge” was apparently a common headline, because I couldn’t recall ever having seen such a headline.  Granted, I don’t look at a print newspaper all that frequently, but I skim through them enough that I found it odd I had never noticed it.  But voila, here the answer for why I have never seen one is explained by Shafer.  Bus plunge articles have disappeared over time.  They were used primarily to fill space when necessary back when typesetting had to be done by hand.  How much space articles would take up was hard to estimate and these little shorts (since bus plunge stories could be edited to very few lines) could fill in the extra spaces.  Now, since everything is electronic spaces are easier to fill by simply making a picture or the font bigger. 

However, Shafer opines that these “shorts” might actually have served a purpose, “The abundance of bite-sized pieces scattered about gave readers multiple points of entry into yesterday's newspaper. Parched by a long story about tax policy that jumped from Page One, a reader could always count on finding a little oasis where he could replenish himself. Knowing that most pages contained a few shorts gave readers added reason to flip through the paper and nibble here and there.”  And I really agree with him.  Not only because these shorts provide little snippets of text to contrast with the longer, more complicated stories, but also because they provide amusement and interesting facts.  As I mentioned before, a previous summer job required me to spend a lot of time looking at old newspapers on microfilm.  I noticed a lot of these shorter articles, some would just be facts.  The very randomness of some of them just made me laugh.  Shafer gives an example of one such short from The Times, “Most snails are both male and female, according to the Associated Press.” 

I’m not suggesting that newspapers should forego the actual, newsworthy stories, but once in a while amid the death and destruction, it can be heartening to a reader to simply read a random fact.  Granted, bus plunges are not particularly amusing, but I’m going to have to agree with Shafer, I think that shorts did serve a purpose. 

Read more on “bus plunges.” 

4 Comments

Josie Rush said:

First, let me thank-you for flat-out saying you hadn't seen a bus plunge headline. I had been wondering if perhaps my observation skills were just that shabby.
Secondly, I definitely think you have a point. Placing little bits of information throughout that paper can be sort of like a rest stop, away from the politics and police reports. Just good old-fashioned learning.

Jeanine O'Neal said:

I think the idea of having an "oasis" for a reader to "replenish himself" is nice. But, is a story about death an oasis or more cause to think this world has gon to pot. Like I said on Josie's blog (and I responded to hr comments on my blogs about bus plungs), a filler story on kittens and rainbow is more relaxing than a deathly bus plunge.

Greta Carroll said:

Josie, I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who hadn't seen these stories.

Jeanine- I didn't mean to imply that bus plunges themselves were heartening, but instead some of the other shorts or fillers that are used, such as Shafer's example of "...snails are both male and female..."

Angela Palumbo said:

I, too, had never heard of a bus plunge. I'm going to be honest, when I look through newspapers (which is rare), I gravitate to these little stories. If I find a longer article that is mildly interesting, I won't bother. Only if the article truly interests me, like the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie perhaps, will I read a really long article. But I love to check out fun facts like the snail example. In fact, this entry reminds me of the days when I used to scour the Ripley's Believe It or Not! encyclopedia for fun facts to share with others. The stories in the book were all short with just enough information. News doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to get its point across and the sooner, the better.

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