When the tone doesn’t match the topic

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that I am an advocate of alternative story forms. Formats such as the Q&A and a list can be memorable ways to convey information to readers.

The situation in Syria seems like a natural for these formats, so when several Facebook friends posted links to this Washington Post story, I took notice.

“9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask” is both a list and a Q&A, with a helpful map added. It’s part of a series on various topics. This story offers a wealth of information about Syria generally and the civil war there, and it explains U.S. policy toward the country.

Where this story falls short, in my mind, is in its tone. The writing is peppered with the second person and first person, creating a casual feel. The story includes a musical interlude via YouTube.

The feel of the questions indicates that readers are probably bored, jaded or rushed — or perhaps all three. An example: “How did it all go so wrong in Syria? And, please, just give me the short version.”

Of my friends who posted this story to Facebook, about half expressed concerns about the story’s approach. The other half simply posted it as information to share with others, apparently unbothered by the way it was written and edited.

To my mind, the Q&A provides a lot of information, but it a mismatch of tone and topic, a serious subject treated lightly. And keep in mind, this is The Washington Post, not BuzzFeed or Gawker. That’s not to say that the Post and similar publications can’t use a light touch on occasion, but that approach seems like a bad choice here.

UPDATE: A novelist offers a satire called “9 Questions About Britain You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask.” And the Post interviews him.