‘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.

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