You’ve seen them again and again. Types of stories or story bits the media pummels to death through sheer force of habit, or something. Certainly not because they are particularly enlightening or interesting.
1. “Duh” studies stating the obvious
It’s bad enough that universities and research centres often chew up time and money on studies that reach such obvious conclusions. But it’s even worse when the media pass them along as if they were some kind of revelation. True that sometimes there is some valuable nuance amidst the generally-predictable gist of a piece of research, but if so, focus on that nuance then.
2. Streeters or Vox Pop
“Man in the street” types of interviews. Well-liked by TV news shows in particular for their unique capacity to fill up air time with something vaguely watchable (the “people like to look at other people” principle) while usually adding no real insight into anything. Or even representing public opinion properly, since the news crew will typically just interview the first few people they can find, then bugger off.
3. Opposition politicians criticize government
What do you expect them to say? “This government is awesome; We suck by comparison, says Opposition leader”? There may be the odd exception when the critic has some special insight into an issue, but generally I don’t see the point in giving standard parliamentary debate any more of a public airing than it already gets. Leave it for CPAC and its audience of eight or so. Everyone else gets bored senseless by it.
4. Grieving relatives
“Gripping” TV images of a sobbing mother whose child has been murdered. Or loud newspaper headlines in the same vein: “GIVE US JUSTICE.” At times like these it’s hard to tell the difference between the news and reality TV shows. Or even fictional ones. Personally I see it as an intrusion into the victims’ privacy at what is probably the worst time of their lives. Sure, maybe it could help trigger an anonymous public tip on an unsolved murder… or it could lead to overzealous public witch-hunts like this. I say leave these poor people alone. The audience can get its cheap emotional kicks elsewhere.
5. Definite maybes
In their overeagerness to break a story the media will often report something that may happen. The trouble here is that, by the same token, it may not. How about just letting us know when they make a final decision on it?
Light, bright and trite, an old journalism instructor of mine liked to say. Aim your writing at the head of a 10th-grade student.
It seemed a bit cynical to me at the time, but it wasn’t bad career advice. “Trite is good” is certainly a principle that has been fully embraced in newsrooms all over the world.
But there can always be too much of a good thing. Triteness is easily digested — and it can also be repetitive and annoying, especially when the heavily used expression doesn’t make much sense in the first place.
Here are five overused and downright dumb terms that need to
go the way of the dodo bird die out:
“Arguably her best work,” “Arguably one of the greatest players of all time”
The champion weasel word of the 21st century so far. Most often used to make an assertion without actually asserting anything, or backing it up. I think the word’s wide appeal owes something to the way it packs four syllables into a compact eight letters, thereby allowing the writer to be pretentious and lazy at the same time. At its most weaselly when combined with “one of” as in the example above.
SOLUTION: Assert something in only the strongest terms you feel comfortable with, so you don’t have to wimp out at the last second.
2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
“The year in politics: the good, the bad and the ugly”
This heavily recycled title from an old spaghetti western fit well for the movie, but rarely does for the year-in-review and similar articles in which it so often appears. Usually the writers fail to explain what the difference is supposed to be between “bad” and “ugly.”
SOLUTION: The Good and Bad, Hits and Misses, Ups and Downs, etc. Also trite but at least they make sense and, being less figurative, stand up better to repeated use.
3. Thisgate and Thatgate
Weinergate, Spygate, Bingogate, any scandal with -gate on the end
Like a lot of cliches, this was probably quite clever when it was first coined. But that would have been back in the 1970s, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. Probably beaten to death by about 1985, and since then… ugh.
SOLUTION: Just drop it already. Write “scandal,” it’s only a few more letters.
4. Impact (verb)
“How this decision will impact residents,” “The economy was negatively impacted”
A rising favourite for governments and corporations, this trendy usage is increasingly common in the media as well. But it fails to improve in any way on “affect,” and in the case of “negatively impacted,” ignores the richness of the English language: hurt, harmed, battered, undermined, upset, damaged and many more.
SOLUTION: Affect, hurt, etc. etc.
5. Kinder, gentler
“A kinder, gentler policy,” “a kinder, gentler (Famous Tough-Guy Type)”
Another ironic instance of the media copycatting the governments they normally take so much pride in challenging. “Kinder, gentler nation” was George H.W. Bush’s speechwriter-assisted re-election buzzphrase from about 20 years ago, but has since lived on in millions of news headlines for all kinds of stories. Whether Western society has actually become any kinder or gentler in all that time is very debatable indeed.
SOLUTION: Douse it with gasoline, strike a match, and watch it get “negatively impacted.”