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UD Prof. Dawn Fallik and camera-ready Daisy, who insists on joining all Zoom calls.
The editor of
InStyle has called it the GOAT of cat stories. Author Neil Gaiman liked
it. And if you’re among the 800,000 to have already viewed the top-read Washington Post story, you’ve likely already met Max, George and Lando Calrissian, the three Vancouver cats who have held a Vitamix box hostage.
Perhaps lesser known is that this viral piece was written by UD
journalism Prof. Dawn Fallik, who specializes in medical stories, with a
particular focus on data analysis.
A freelance journalist, Fallik’s previous record was a Wall Street
Journal article on the "Iron Chef" battle with Michelle Obama, which
received 300 comments (compared to the cats’ 4,000-plus).
Clearly, her latest story resonated. UD’s very own cat woman shared
her thoughts on why that happened, how the story came to be and the
dorky love of strangers that has been a source of pure 2022 joy.
Q: Why did the story click with so many?
Fallik: Cat people read that story and were like, “YES, these
are my people.” Those with cats know they are the boss of us. Dogs are
generally happy beings. Cat default is displeased disdain. Our mission
is to try and make them happy. It's like making a baby laugh, people
will make fools of themselves to make that happen. Worth it, right?
With cats, sometimes it's a simple thing like tuna or a piece of string,
or having dinner elsewhere because the cat is sleeping on a kitchen
chair. And sometimes it's a huge inconvenience or expense, like leaving a
$500 blender in a box in the middle of your kitchen for a month because
it's your cats’ new favorite place. If you know, you know.
Q: What does a story like this say about the viral nature of news?
Fallik: The stories that go viral tend to fall into two categories: quirky/funny or deeply vulnerable. Look at Humans of New York.
These are short stories about everyday people and their joys and
challenges. They are short, simple and in the person’s own words.
Millions connect to these strangers. We don’t know them, but we relate,
we see ourselves or people we know. If a story makes us laugh or cry, or
feel a connection, we’re likely to send it to others. Because then they
laugh or cry, and you get to enjoy it through them.
Q: How did you find this story?
Fallik: I found it while procrastinating on Facebook instead
of writing a controversial medical story [about people not wanting to
get weighed at the doctor’s office — an important topic which can be
especially sensitive to readers. The article should come out in the Post
next week]. I saw the couple's public post to Vitamix asking for extra
boxes and it made me laugh, and I immediately wanted to tell all my cat
friends. As a reporter, that's usually the sign of a good story.
Q: What do you love most about this story?
Fallik: The comments. There are more than 4,500 of them, and
overwhelmingly they are joyous. (There are some haters without a soul or
sense of whimsy.) People wrote about getting king-size beds so there
was room for their dogs, or moving furniture so cats could sit in the
sunbeam. The comments on stories can be vicious and personal. And yet,
this time, it was thousands and thousands of people shamelessly sharing
their dorky love. I'm here for that.
Q: Are there any comments that have surprised you?
Fallik: I've gotten a lot of comments from people not in the
journalism industry saying something like, “This story is going
everywhere, you are going to rake it in!” That is not how professional
journalists get paid. I got a flat fee that’s agreed upon when you set
the length and deadline. Clicks and page views are meaningless when it
comes to payment — and that's true for my stories for NPR or The Wall
Street Journal or anywhere I've ever written. That's a huge
misconception when people talk about “the media.”
Q: Any takeaway from this experience, either personally or professionally?
Fallik: Writing funny is difficult although I've been told I'm
fabulous at yelling in email. Tone in print doesn't always come
through.. as anyone who has ever misinterpreted a text will know.
Medicine, crime, politics — those stories are usually straight-forward,
although the material itself can be complicated. The trick is to let the
story tell itself. There was just one line that was purely my snark,
and I got quite a few comments from students and friends saying "I could
SO hear you saying this." That was, "People frequently ask why the
couple doesn’t just take the cats off the box. These are clearly dog
owners. This is not how cats work."
Q: Have you always been a cat lover?
Fallik: I've had cats in my life since I was very little (and
one sheepdog). Little did I know that they were just training me so I'd
have the skills to write this story. Now I've got to go because I have
one elderly cat with no teeth who only eats baby food (Gerber turkey in
the glass jar), and I'm almost out.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Article by Artika Casini; photo courtesy of Dawn Fallik
Originally published January 11, 2022