These are not good days in journalism. Angry politicians, angrier citizens. A society with more want than will or wallet. Complex issues that bumper-sticker solutions will not solve.
In other words, normal life on Earth.
But journalists caught up in the day’s real or feared crises – and life on deadline is an unhealthy crisis of its own – inevitably spend more time just figuring out what the heck is going on that they do expressing all of that clearly or elegantly. That’s the best excuse I have for why the morning paper and evening news include as many cliches as bits of information.
Let’s examine – and maybe drop – a few:
• You really don’t want to be the epicenter of innovation or at the ground zero of the digital economy or in any kind of perfect storm. Earthquakes have epicenters, very large bombs go off at ground zero, and perfect storms – two or three things each compounding the destructive powers of the others – are bad for most life forms.
Was that a seismic shift in the stock market I just felt? Hope not. That’s another earthquake, and you don’t want those. Maybe it was just a sea change.
• POTUS, SCOTUS and comms all need to go. POTUS is political shorthand for “president of the United States.” Journalists should save that for their notes or, if desperate, Twitter. If it makes it into a headline or a bottom-of-the-screen chyron, someone has failed. Don’t make the reader decode the news. Not everyone instantly knows that SCOTUS refers to the Supreme Court.
And “comms?” Really? Short for communications. It’s borrowed from the military, where it fits and makes sense. In political life, calling your P.R. person the “comms director” is just silly and pretentious.
• Spare me the narrative. In football, that comes out as tonight’s story lines. It feels a bit cynical and lazy. A story line is something the producers plan out before the game. Will Quarterback Bob resurrect his career or crash on shoals of defeat?
Here’s a thought: Call the game. A game is a story. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. There are rules and boundaries. You’re sitting in a booth, and this is all acted out in front of you. Call that. That is the storyline.
And political reporters fretting about the “narrative,” this means you too. Cynical political consultants are paid to manage narratives. Don’t fall for it.
• We have to have a talk about then and now. “In 2016, then-President Obama said he likes ice cream.” Of course he was the “then-president.” He’s the only one we had that year. This is idiotic, and it assumes that a reader of the daily paper cannot mentally leap from today to yesterday and back again. Sometimes you’ll see a reference to then-candidate X who is now-Senator X. I expect any day to read “soon-to-be-former,” which means … “current.”
• Iconic. No. Just stop. The odds are very, very good that what you’re about to describe as iconic is ordinary, fleeting or subpar. If you’re out of adjectives, fine. Move on. Some nouns can make on their own.
– Jeff Fox barks a lot on Twitter @FoxEJC.