Archive | January, 2011

‘Up in arms’ about violent clichés

23 Jan

I was inspired to write this after reading a blog entry on Yahoo!

I agree with the point that no journalist needs to rethink using violent clichés because those clichés inspire violence itself. That’s just as ridiculous as the people who called Sarah Palin out for her “cross hairs” campaign image, claiming it inspired Jared Lee Loughner to go on his shooting spree in Tucson.

Maybe the campaign was in poor taste, but it was not murder-inducing. The real reason Palin got dragged into the spotlight again? She’s ratings gold; people love it when she opens her mouth because they never know what she’s going to say next.

Am I on TV a lot? You betcha!

I realize this might seem a little hypocritical since I’m mentioning Palin myself right now, but I encourage media in the future to really pause and think it over before they decide to use a vague connection to a story to mention or interview her in the future. Is there someone else whose opinion is more relevant? Odds are there is. Talking to the same source over and over again might be good for revenue, but it’s not necessarily responsible journalism.

It’s actually something that happens a lot in journalism, even on my school’s paper. It’s easy to get comfortable with automatically reaching out to a certain source. And maybe that person is the best authority on a topic, but there are a lot of people out there with a lot of expertise between them. It never hurts to get a new voice in the media.

Getting back to the subject of the Yahoo! post, although I disagree with the reason some journalists have decided to review the violent phrases they use, I’m glad they’ve decided to do it.

Clichéd writing is lazy writing. Stock phrases sound good because we’ve heard them so many times, but they’re not effective and sometimes they’re not even accurate. Sure, politics are pretty nasty, but are they really comparable to killing and warfare? Journalism isn’t just about getting the facts right; it’s about getting the feeling of a story right too. Phrasing and voice can take a backseat when we want to cover a story quickly, but they shouldn’t.

These babies, however, definitely should be in the backseat.

I’m just as guilty as everyone else here. While I don’t necessarily use a lot of violent clichés, I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of using trite phrases before. But when you struggle to make a saying fit in your headline or story, that’s a sign that the wording isn’t right for the piece. Trying to use it anyway will not only mislead your audience, it will in a sense desensitize your readers to wording that in another setting might have been really powerful. How many times have we heard about a candidate being “under fire”? Fairly often. So much so, it doesn’t seem so dangerous when we see that same phrase in an article about the war in Afghanistan even though the two situations don’t really have anything in common.

I try to stay mindful of using the right words when I write as a journalist and I encourage others to do the same. Fresh writing is good writing and it’s definitely more interesting to read.


It’s the little things

16 Jan

I really enjoy copy editing. In fact, I’m looking to pursue it as a career after I graduate college. Recently, I’ve come across a couple of things that have reminded me why, despite spellcheck, grammar check and similar software, it’s still a good idea to keep a copy editor around.

1) I noticed this on the front page of my university’s website. It’s a story about a professor who maps internet censorship.

What caught my attention in this instance is the hed for this article: Access Denied. There’s nothing wrong with it in and of itself. It plays off of a phrase that ties into the article’s topic and would have been fine in print. Online, however, it doesn’t work for a couple of reasons.

  1. In terms of SEO, no one searching for an article about global internet censorship is going to use this phrase.
  2. It makes me think that my access is being denied to something or that there’s some kind of computer error and the real content can’t load.

Number two is the biggie here. I had to read the hed and subhead two or three times before I finally understood what was going on.  You can’t count on most readers being that patient.

2) I definitely feel for my fellow Big 12 school on this one. This was obviously an error that was simply overlooked before the paper went to print. The mistake in question? The title for a break box accompanying a story about rape and sexual abuse was supposed to read “Who can not give consent.” This ran instead:

Ouch. You really hate to see something like that happen. It’s an error that only a human could catch. Grammatically, nothing is wrong with it. Mistakes like these remind me why, although it sometimes seems excessive, four or five different people look over a page before we send it to print.

3) This next item is computer generated and concerns an issue I’ve seen pop up multiple times. It also brings into play copy editors’ ever-expanding duties – it’s not just about commas and homonyms, folks, but context, layout and general attentiveness as well.  The item? An ad-article combo that appeared on Glenn Beck’s website shortly after the shooting rampage in Tucson that left six dead.

Apparently, the random image generator on Beck’s website paired a photo of the pundit with a gun next to a quote about controlling violence in America. Clearly, this didn’t happen on purpose but the fact remains that it did happen. There’s no way that a computer can be programmed to know that something like this isn’t exactly kosher.  I also recently spied a travel agency ad for trips to Australia in an article about the flooding in Brisbane. Yikes.

I guess, in the end, it sometimes seems like copy editing isn’t as important as it used to be. I disagree. It’s still important, just in new and changing ways. I mean, someone’s got to keep Glenn Beck from looking like a complete failure as a human being. Right?