Age helps tell the story

I'm curious to know why you (Mail-Trib) ask people their ages when it has nothing to do with the content of the story.

Thanks to Saturday's front page lead story about political fliers that people ignore, the world now knows that Allen Stewart of Jacksonville is 64, postal clerk Julie Hettinga is 37, Jackie Christie of Applegate is 55 and Terri Hurd of Jacksonville is 48.

None of this adds a whit of value to the story. Do you guys have some kinky obsession with age? How old am I, you ask? Old enough to know not to ask when it's none of my business.

— Craig C., Eagle Point

So, Craig, can we assume that you were not happy when that AARP invitation showed up in the mail? Kinda makes you want to write them a curt no-thank-you and then take your walker and head to the nearest postal box, doesn't it?

As for why those Mail-Trib people insist on using age, we can list a few reasons, among them . . . ta dah, TRADITION! We've always done it, so it's become ingrained.

But as for real reasons, there are a couple:

  • We list ages to make it clear that the 28-year-old Joe Smith who was arrested for growing weed is not your 68-year-old neighbor Joe Smith, who as far as you know only pulls weeds from his garden. It, along with an address, helps to more clearly identify people in stories in which uncertainty could prove to be embarrassing for people with the same, or even similar, names.
  • We also list ages to help give readers a better mental image of who's speaking. If Jackie Christie of Applegate were 25 instead of 55 (and we're sure you don't look a day over 30, Jackie), it would put her comments in a different context and probably create a different image in your mind's eye.

We do on occasion agree not to publish ages, particularly in feature stories and particularly if the person is photographed so that readers already have a clear picture of who is being discussed or doing the discussing. But we prefer to give readers the whole story, wrinkles and all.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to

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