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A playful approach

Illustration by Carlos Carmonamedina
Carlos Carmonamedina for NPR Public Editor

By now, you might've heard that a filmmaker made a slasher movie where Winnie the Pooh and Piglet are killers. By most accounts, it's not even a good slasher movie. Still, many clever headlines have tapped in to those famous Poohisms like "oh, bother."

The very point of this genre of entertainment is to combine scary and funny.

How should a journalist and host approach such material? Since the material itself is irreverent, a lighter tone might be the best approach.

If Pooh Bear has morphed into a murderous monster, being too serious might suck the humor out of the moment. And yet, mess with beloved icons, and the people who love them will be offended.

Today we respond to a listener who was offended by this new take on the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood and surprised at an NPR host's tone when discussing it, during a story about the intersection of comedy and horror. So we take a look at the role of tone.

We also spotlight an interesting Planet Money story on a study about fake online reviews and who is good at spotting them (hint: not very many people).

FROM THE INBOX

Here are a few quotes from the Public Editor's inbox that resonated with us. Letters are edited for length and clarity. You can share your questions and concerns with us through the NPR Contact page.

The role of tone

Karen Herwig wrote on Feb. 15: I just listened, for the 2nd time, to today's interview A Martinez did with Jordan Crucchiola re: films combining comedy and horror. ... Upon hearing it the first time my heart sank at the usage of a sweet children's literature figure in such a sickening way. I assume the Winnie the Pooh franchise is out from under copyright protection and free to be monetized in this disgusting way. What surprised me most was the tone of voice — glee, enthusiasm, fanciful anticipation, perhaps, of being in the audience... — of A Martinez. From my POV A's tone reflected a lack of deeper consideration of the bigger 'picture' of children's characters being repurposed for abetting violence. ...

This Morning Edition story was about films where horror and comedy overlap. Host A Martinez's tone is playful at times while interviewing writer and producer Jordan Crucchiola, but he also asks serious questions about what to make of these films.

"The tone was to have fun with how horror movies have morphed into films with lots of punchlines thrown in for laughs," Martinez told us in an email. "It was perfectly summed up by the guest Jordan Crucchiola when she said,

'The relationship between horror and comedy structurally is quite similar. You're doing build-ups to payoffs for your bits. But instead of the breakthrough of those bits being laughter, the breakthrough of those bits is shrieks and terror. So the relationship with horror and comedy, I mean, we can take that all the way back to, like, the Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein kind of in the 1940s.'"

This segment was about horror-comedy movies, and the violent reimagining of Winnie the Pooh was presented as a new example. While an NPR host could express shock and disappointment at this development, in solidarity with people who feel that way, that would also alienate people who appreciate this art form.

This particular slasher movie could also be the beginning of a trend.

"The fact that one of the movies mentioned was the reimagining of Winnie the Pooh as a bloodthirsty beast was incidental for this particular interview," Martinez said. "But I'm hoping to make it the jumping-off point for another interview about how other children's characters will soon become public domain and could get the same reimagining as Winnie the Pooh."

Joie Chen, former anchor on CNN and Al Jazeera America, analyzed the interview from a show host's perspective. She said Martinez's tone was appropriate, and his role was "to draw out a discussion about a pop culture phenomenon."

We agree. Martinez's tone matched the subject matter and made the story approachable for many in the audience. — Amaris Castillo

SPOTLIGHT ON

The Public Editor spends a lot of time examining moments where NPR fell short. Yet we also learn a lot about NPR by looking at work that we find to be compelling and excellent journalism. Here we share a line or two about the pieces where NPR shines.

Dissecting fake reviews

NPR's Planet Money published a story by Paddy Hirsch about the difficulties people have in detecting whether online reviews are phony or legitimate. The results of a study on how fake reviews can fool us were revealing: "consumers generally trust negative reviews more than positive ones." The story addressed some of the characteristics of believable fake reviews from the study, such as longer length, more details and lack of emotion. This piece can help NPR's audience make smarter decisions as consumers. — Amaris Castillo

The Office of the Public Editor is a team. Editor Kayla Randall, reporters Amaris Castillo and Emily Barske, and copy editor Merrill Perlman make this newsletter possible. Illustrations are by Carlos Carmonamedina. We are still reading all of your messages on Facebook, Twitter and from our inbox. As always, keep them coming.

Kelly McBride
NPR Public Editor
Chair,
Craig Newmark Center for Ethics & Leadership at the Poynter Institute

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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