1/30/2009 5:10:31 PM
Young people in Swaziland will soon be able to connect to their peers via “Ses’khona,” the country’s first youth-driven radio program, set to air weekly starting this month. The project is an extension of “Super Buddies,” a UNICEF-backed children’s outreach program and magazine that started in 2003. Both the radio show and the magazine are Swaziland’s only examples of media by and for children.
The show will be broadcast on the government station and features directors, producers, and reporters ages 12-14. With a huge majority of the population getting their news from the radio, along with an overwhelmingly positive response from test audiences, Ses’khona will give a voice to the oft-ignored youth demographic. The name translated from SiSwati to English means “We’re here,” but its original connotation is one of “the arrival of a group that intends to stay and be heard.”
1/30/2009 10:15:47 AM
For those who’d call current sports journalism fluff: Gary Andrew Poole agrees with you. In an essay for the Columbia Journalism Review, though, he muses that it needn’t be. The shortcomings he bemoans—an emphasis on sensational stories, a move away from longer narrative work—aren't specific to sports writing, and neither are the market pressures he observes: the growing importance of web reporting, the increasingly rapid turnover of news items.
But Poole argues that sports writers are uniquely positioned to resist these trends. After all, fans can probably live without to-the-second updates on batting averages and shoulder injuries. A renewed focus on thoughtful analysis and creative storytelling might remind us why sports matter in the big picture, by exploring how they reflect our cultural values and imagination. Take a look at the article to hear Poole elaborate and to catch some insightful comments from readers, or consider other reasons why sportswriting has lost its game.
Image courtesy of Kevin Klöcker, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/28/2009 12:23:37 PM
If you never picked up a copy of MAP Magazine, the Miami based art and culture quarterly, you blew it. It’s gone now—shuttered by a cash-strapped publisher with a completed issue ready for the printer. It’s the cruelest brand of magazine death. That interview with Gore Vidal and Chip Kidd? Gone. That piece on the art scene in Berlin? On a hard drive somewhere. The multiple covers created exclusively for the issue by an esteemed art collective? Wasted time.
We first got word of MAP’s demise from Twitter user themediaisdying. An email to (former) MAP editor Omar Sommereyns bounced. We finally tracked him down and arranged an interview. What follows is a little bit of inside baseball and a lot of hurt. And it’s reminder that the best magazines are a labor of love first and a business second. That might be why the best magazines don’t always make it.
UTNE READER: You only made it to six issues. What happened?
OMAR SOMMEREYNS: Yes, it was six issues, but MAP was a quarterly culture publication packed with content. There was always a lot to read—no cheap tidbits only feature narratives, interviews, a fashion section, and columns.
I knew that it would be a serious challenge. Part of it was the location. In Miami the publishing arena is mostly plagued by vacuous glossies and ad-rags. This isn't exactly a literary town. It had never encountered a magazine with a truly intellectual and culturally-relevant approach; with more long-form pieces and serious content.
Our subscriptions, feedback on the content, and readership kept growing exponentially with each issue. But the marketing people were still not selling enough ads, and the economic downturn certainly didn't help. It simply came to a point where the publishers couldn't afford to produce the magazine anymore.
UR: I remember being surprised to learn the magazine was out of Miami.
OS: MAP was really created out of need. There was nothing like it down here, and we felt that there needed to be, especially since there is a compelling culture scene in Miami that gets overlooked by excessively disseminated South Beach stereotypes. And in addition to covering interesting aspects of the local scene, we offered features and interviews on an international level—from an insider's reportage on the surreal world of Bollywood to an interview with reclusive and famed French writer Michel Houellebecq.
UR: Are you proud of what MAP accomplished in six issues?
OS: I'm happy we managed to create a visually and editorially stimulating publication with very little resources. I mean, our editorial budget was hardly commensurate to what we accomplished, and we were able to build something meaningful for a while, thanks to the gracious efforts and talents of several writers, artists, photographers, and dear friends of mine. Art director Andrew Bouchie’s innovative design for the magazine was a big part of its success—readers would constantly commend the design, in addition to the stories themselves.
I feel stifled and frustrated since we weren't even close to reaching our apex, and the creative progression of the magazine was utterly halted. I was still full of ideas and just coming close to realizing how far we could go creatively with MAP.
UR: How quickly did MAP's publisher shut out the lights? Were you given any warning at all?
OS: I had a sense that things weren't going well for some time, but I was quite disappointed that we didn't get to publish our Winter 08/09 issue. It was by far our strongest—a whole new level for us. A few days before going to press, my publishers let me know that the magazine was shutting down, with everything paid for, except we couldn't afford to publish that last issue. That'll always haunt me.
UR: Should anybody be starting a magazine like MAP in this climate?
I would never say no. I commend and encourage any endeavors in independent publishing, but people should be aware that it's really going to be a battle, most notably in establishing a good dichotomy between editorial integrity and business acumen, while trying to make money and stay afloat.
I think we tried our best at MAP. Many great publications and creative activity spring from tough times. It all depends on people's moxie and true independent spirit, plus constant faith in your vision. And, of course, real financial backing to begin with helps a lot. Nonetheless, with any publication like this, there's always a risk factor, but you just kind of have to jump in and see if it works.
MAP Magazine launched in Spring 2007 and was shuttered in December 2008. The magazine is still online and worth a visit--if only to download PDF files of each issue for your digital archives.
1/28/2009 10:37:45 AM
At an undisclosed location, somewhere in the United States, a public relations man is chronicling the demise of the media as we know it—and he’s doing it in short bursts of 140 characters or less.
If you are a journalist or media organization who is not on Twitter, you should be. And once you’re there, you should subscribe to the daily beating that is a Twitter feed called themediaisdying.
There you’ll find the rat-a-tat-tat of daily media executions. Here’s a sampling of the devastation:
VIBE has lost an associate music editor, Shanel Odum.
MAD MAGAZINE is going quarterly
VARIETY could have cuts this week
The February WIRED is only 113 pages, of which only 31.5 are ad pages - not the usual 1:1 ratio.
It is brutal, but that is not its founder’s intention. “It started as a closed group of our eight founders,” the anonymous ringleader of themediaisdying (lets call him Mr. Dying) tells Utne Reader. Each of the eight founders are employed in the public relations industry—either in-house or on a freelance basis. The Twitter account was mostly a way to keep track of their clients (and potential clients) in the print media industry. “But the point of Twitter is to be open, right? So we opened it up.” The open account launched on December 19 with this posting: "RUMOR: LA TIMES is considering getting rid of its national and foreign bureaus. Can anyone confirm?”
Today themediaisdying has more than 10,000 followers and gets upwards of 75 tips a day. A tip could take the form of a leaked memo or it could be an e-mail that simply reads: “Hey, I just got fired.”
“I’m spending about 90 minutes a day on Twittering and following up on leads,” says Mr. Dying, who resents the characterization that he and his comrades somehow relish in the demise they are chronicling. “It’s tragic!”
What’s more, the people behind themediaisdying most definitely have something to lose if their identities are revealed. “There would be adverse effects if we were to be exposed—and I put that in big quotes. We still have to work with the media.”
You can read the dispatches of Mr. Dying and his crew here and you can follow the Utne Reader Twitter feed here. May our paths never cross.
1/28/2009 8:47:02 AM
In the latest issue of This Magazine, Daniel Tseghay provides a roundup of bloggers and citizen journalists who are behind bars or have done time in recent years for what they've written, shown, or refused to disclose. It's no surprise to see bloggers from China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran on the list. But the United States?
"Journalist and video blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned in 2006 after posting a video on his blog showing an anti-G8 demonstration in San Francisco," writes Tseghay. "Police wanted Wolf’s unedited footage in order to investigate an attempted arson, but he refused to comply and was charged with contempt. It led to Wolf serving about seven and a half months in prison, the longest period any journalist has ever served in the U.S. for refusing to disclose sources."
If you missed the Josh Wolf story the first time around, here's an interview from the the PBS documentary series Frontline.
To read about the much more grave situation for jailed bloggers around the world, read Daniel Tseghay's piece here.
1/26/2009 5:37:57 PM
Two and a half years after he co-founded Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, which won last year’s Utne Independent Press Award for best new publication, Kenneth Baer nabbed a job in the new administration. He’s now heading up communications and strategic planning at the Office of Management and Budget, the office President Obama has charged with boosting government transparency.
Baer is leaving Democracy with a supremely talented staff, including Andrei Cherny, the co–founding editor, and E.J. Dionne, Jr., who was named chair of the journal’s editorial committee in December. The new issue takes stock of Obama’s America, with dispatches from Orlando Patterson (on equality), Geoffrey Stone (on liberty), Jedediah Purdy (on community), and others.
1/26/2009 3:45:00 PM
Quotation marks aren’t just for quotes. They can also be used to denote “irony,” according to the AP style guide. A prime example comes on the opinion page of today’s Wall Street Journal. When deriding efforts by Congressional Democrats to pass the current stimulus bill, the editors explain, “the ‘stimulus’ claim is based on something called the Keynesian ‘multiplier,’ which is that each $1 of spending the government ‘injects’ into the economy yields 1.5 times that in greater output.”
The quotes around “stimulus,” “multiplier,” and “injects” are meant to cast doubt on the efficacy of the Democratic economic plan. They also give the feeling of superiority over whatever idea the editors are currently deriding. It’s a tactic used often in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, as Jonathan Chait points out in the New Republic. He writes, “The Journal’s fixation with the scare quote is one of the great journalistic marriages between medium and grammatical device.”
The effect of the scare quotes is similar to when cable news channels put a question mark after statements flashed on screen. As Jon Stewart pointed out on the Daily Show (video below), a question mark allows Fox News to say whatever it wants while retaining a thin veil of objectivity. When they broadcast a statement like, “Is the liberal media helping to fuel terror?” They make it seem as though they’re exploring the idea, instead of simply stating it. That’s why Stewart asked, “The question mark: A prophalactic protecting fox news from anything it might contract during its extensive GOP c**ksucking?” He wasn’t making that statement, he was just asking.
1/23/2009 10:22:23 AM
Barack Obama has pledged to run an open and transparent administration, rejecting the extreme secrecy that characterized the Bush years. But we shouldn't just take his word for it, warns Megan Garber of the Columbia Journalism Review.
Much has been made of the Obama administration's revamped WhiteHouse.gov website and of their plans to use social networking tools to open the White House up to the people. But a better website than the one Bush oversaw does not a transparent administration make, writes Garber:
Many of the media’s early assessments of the new WhiteHouse.gov framed their treatments according to some iteration of
, wow, this site is so much better than it was before!. Which is somewhat akin to deeming a Quarter Pounder to be a good meal choice because,
wow, it’s so much healthier than a Big Mac!. Relying on a Bushian metric for transparency doesn’t just set Obama’s bar too low; it sets the standard so low as to invalidate pretty much any bar in the first place.
And what about the press? Garber notes that Obama’s transparency manifesto, as it’s laid out on his new website, curiously fails to make any mention of journalists. “The goal can’t simply be transparency itself,” writes Garber, “but rather transparency that is processed through a journosphere that is diligent, curious, and skeptical.” So will Obama let reporters in to do the work of informing the people?
If the first few days of his presidency (or most of his campaign, for that matter) are any indication of how things will play out in the years to come, reporters shouldn’t expect plentiful access. Politico reports that the sparring has already begun between the press and White House staff. Tightly restricted access to the President’s oath of office do-over and to his first moments in the Oval Office got the press particularly riled up. Among their complaints: No news photographers were allowed into either of those events. Major wire services responded by refusing to run the pictures “in protest of the White House’s handling of the event,” according to Politico.
1/21/2009 11:32:32 AM
The state-run station China Central Television surprised viewers on Inauguration Day by broadcasting President Obama’s speech live and without the usual delay—a cushion for censors to clip offensive words before they go out over the airwaves. Viewers were not surprised, however, when Obama’s use of two sensitive words: “communism” and “dissent” triggered something of a panic among CCTV broadcasters. The Times Online has a play by play:
“The simultaneous interpreter proceeded smoothly with her translation but her voice faded out with the rest of the President’s sentence. The picture cut from the Capitol to an awkwardly smiling news anchor unprepared for the camera to return to her and apparently awaiting instructions in her earpiece. She turned to a reporter in the studio for comment on Mr Obama’s economic challenges. Yet more confusion as the flustered young woman sought refuge in the notes on her desk. The cutaway seemed to misfire. While many Chinese may not have noticed, the more alert were soon commenting on internet chatrooms.”
Here’s a video of the CCTV cutaway:
China's print media also took liberties with Obama's speech. The People’s Daily completely omitted an entire sentence of the speech: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.’”
One hopeful note: Times Online correspondent Jane Macartney notes that “China is finding it increasingly difficult to police the internet given its enormous population and a mounting demand for freedom of expression. On one major Chinese language portal, NetEase, a user posted their own translation of the cut sections in English and Chinese. Online comments were often angry. One writer in the eastern city of Qingdao said: 'Why did domestic media produce a castrated version to fool people! Why can’t we see a real world now!'”
1/20/2009 2:42:48 PM
Supporters of a free Internet, rejoice. The Federal Communications Commission is about to get a new leader, Julius Genachowski, who is a strong net neutrality advocate. Net neutrality, to the non-geeked-out, is the principle of keeping the Internet’s infrastructure open to all rather than letting big telecomm providers control access and connection speed. It’s a democratic idea that ought to fare well under a Democratic administration and Congress.
The media reform and tech blogospheres are abuzz about Genachowski’s anticipated appointment.
At Personal Democracy, Nancy Scola calls Genachowski “the Tom Hanks of Washington. You can’t mention his name without hearing the phrase ‘great guy, great guy.’” And she points out that Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica dug into Genachowki’s past and didn’t dig up much—but “it’s more than you’ve got on Caroline Kennedy,” he concludes.
Over at Media Citizen, Timothy Karr writes: “Genachowski is one of the principal architects of Obama’s pro-neutrality tech and media platform, which was partially unveiled during a November 2007 event, at which Obama pledged to ‘ensure a free and full exchange of information’ and ‘take a back seat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality.’”
At Public Knowledge, Art Brodsky calls the platform a “forward-looking document that hit all the right notes—a free and open Internet, a central place for technology in government policy, transparency in government.” But Brodsky also points out that “Genachowski’s expected appointment, while significant, is still one-third of the new telecom lineup that includes three new chairmen in the Senate and House.”
Brodsky is referring to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA), who’s taking over the Senate Commerce Committee; Henry Waxman (D-CA), who will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), who will head the House Communications Subcommittee. All three bodies play key roles in communications policy.
The outgoing FCC chairman, Republican Kevin Martin, has supported some principles of net neutrality. Last August, he teamed with the FCC’s two Democrats, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, to rule that Comcast was operating its broadband network in a discriminatory way. However, Martin has not provided aggressive leadership in the net neutrality fight—certainly not the type of leadership that is expected from Genachowski, who’s been a high-tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist.
Writes Brodsky: “There hasn’t been this much high-level interest in technology since the Clinton/Gore years when the White House staff was intimately involved with telecom policy.”
1/20/2009 2:28:14 PM
While millions tuned in to watch Barack Obama’s inauguration on TV, a conversation was raging on the microblogging site Twitter. Some expected the site would be overwhelmed by the influx of traffic, but it held up remarkably well, allowing journalists, celebrities, and general netizens to chime in on the day’s proceedings.
We’ve compiled a few of our favorite insights below. And don’t forget to visit the Utne Reader twitter page while you’re over there.
On the scene:
: Sign down on the mall says "We Have Overcome"
anamariecox: People mobbing police officers, desperate for direction. Metaphor?
PatrickRuffini: Bearded bohemians richly represented
justacoolcat: Big crowd. So when do they release the bulls?
jdickerson: I believe that the Secret Service had to clear Aretha's hat
Kaeti: How I wish that Hulu's live coverage wasn't sponsored by Mall Cop.
: CBC reporter to kid: "Who's cooler Obama or Kanye West?" WTF?
Jeffjarvis: If people would stop writing tweets predicting that Twitter will fail, maybe that will lighten the load enough so it doesn't fail.
: Now that The Speech is over, telemarketing calls have resumed. God bless America!
jayrosen_nyu: Get ready for four years of "...If you thought the election of Barack Obama was going to bring an end to partisanship, well, think again."
On George W. Bush:
: GWBush listens to Feinstein's call for 'real and necessary change' like I'M SITTING RIGHT HERE
: In a perfect world the helicopter Bush is leaving on should drop him off at Gitmo.
: Bush is being taken to the Hague off-camera right now. Right?
mollypriesmeyer: Get in your 'copter, crook!
: As a former woodwinder myself, I am not embarrassed to say: that is one handsome clarinetist.
: Obama is already killing my productivity.
: President Obama's speech was spectacular. Can't wait to read it really really slowly, to infuse each word into my soul.
: Holy smokes! That was the longest eight years of my life.
: Well, I cried like a fucking baby.
MCHammer: Pac this is for you....I know how you dreamed of this...I'm throwing a 2 in the air in your memory...love you !! Amen!
1/20/2009 1:51:09 PM
The January issue of Global Journalist includes an “In memoriam” catalog of international journalist deaths in 2008. The remembrances are dry and you can’t help but want more about each of these victims. But there are pictures of the reporters and photographers, now dead, in passport photo booths and more casual enviornments. And there are a few moments of numbing gravity. Photojournalist Eliecer Santamaria was stabbed in his car in Panama while on assignment covering gang warfare. His last words, according to a bystander: “My camera is under the seat…my camera…my camera…”
To see the photos and learn the stories of these fallen storytellers, visit the Global Journalist website.
1/15/2009 1:06:07 PM
Last week, the New York Times announced that it would begin running ads on the front page in response to lagging revenues. A1 purists emitted a chorus of gasps, but pragmatic observers weren't as horrified. After all, plenty of newspapers around the country already print front-page ads; it’s a move that helps them stay afloat in an economy that’s been unkind to print media. James Barron, a contributor to The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages, thinks that changes to a paper's front page offer telling glimpses into larger journalistic trends. He recently talked with On the Media about shifting journalistic practices and 150 years of changes to A1.
Barron has a stockpile of interesting examples. He points to a headline from the assassination attempt on Teddy Roosevelt:
Maniac in Milwaukee Shoots Colonel Roosevelt. He Ignores Wound, Speaks an Hour, Goes to Hospital.
Besides being incredibly long, it wears its opinions on its sleeve in a way that papers now avoid. It’s difficult to imagine a reporter calling anyone a ‘maniac’ anymore.
Barron also sees the move away from obvious editorializing in the difference between reports of the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations. Lincoln’s death was described as ‘awful news,’ while Kennedy’s was related in more clinical terms.
Check out the interview to hear Barron’s take on other notable changes to the Times’ A1. In particular, there’s an interesting discussion about what an increasing focus on online journalism means for the future of the front page.
Image courtesy of harshilshah100, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/14/2009 12:41:58 PM
Last week, the U.S. Air Force released a “counter-blogging” flow chart, which encourages members to “fix the facts” and “share success” in the comments section of blog posts critical of the U.S. government and the armed forces. The chart also includes “response considerations,” such as disclosing the Air Force connection, citing sources, and “respond(ing) in a tone that reflects highly on the rich heritage of the Air Force.”
In many respects, this move reflects a broader shift in government to embracing new media and the blogging culture that has sprung from it. According to Wired, the Air Force has been the slowest of the military branches to embrace bloggers as a force to contend with; the Army holds “bloggers’ roundtables” with military leaders and civilians and the Navy invited bloggers to accompany personnel on a humanitarian mission.
Ironically, airmen will have little chance to follow these guidelines if on base, because almost every web address including the word “blog” is banned from Air Force networks.
1/9/2009 12:48:48 PM
Coverage of the conflict in Israel and Gaza rarely has a nuanced human face. But citizens from both sides of the border are working to change that.
Peace Man and Hope Man, for instance, are friends who maintain a blog about the violence and their daily lives. Peace Man is a Palestinian, living in a refugee camp in Gaza, and Hope Man is an Israeli living in Sderot. Though the two live only about 10 miles from each other, Hope Man, whose real name is Eric Yellin, told NPR’s Melissa Block that they both knew virtually no one across the border before the blog.
“But as soon as I started meeting people,” Yellin said, “it created a real connection and understanding that on the other side of the border, there are people exactly like us who are suffering. We are suffering, too, through this conflict. But the only way to end this was through some kind of connection and dialogue.”
“Gaza Sderot: Life in Spite of Everything” is an online video project similarly aimed at fostering dialogue and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. For two months, two two-minute videos—one following a resident of Gaza, the other an Israeli from Sderot—were posted to the site every day. The videos depict scenes of everyday life as its lived by normal people.
“When you realize that people have the same issues about work or about love, about raising your kids, in places where you don’t first think in these terms, well then I get the feeling that we’re doing good work. And that happened quite a few times,” the project’s executive producer, Serge Gordey, told The World’s Carol Zall.
These alternative lenses not only initiate dialogue, they effectively communicate the weight of the situation for both sides, a particularly important function given the lack of on-the-ground reporting from Gaza. In a recent post, Hope Man writes, "Many people of our region have left it for good over the years. Bringing up children in such a reality seems almost abusive and certainly irresponsible." Just above that, Peace Man's latest post from Gaza ends with this reflection: "I hope I will have the chance to write you again."
Image by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/8/2009 10:10:01 AM
In the history of scandals, Randall “Duke” Cunningham has got to be one of the best. In 2005, the California congressman was found guilty of taking more than $2 million in bribes in a conspiracy allegedly involving defense contractors and prostitutes. The story was broken by reporters from the San Diego Union-Tribune, though none of those reporters are still with the paper, according to the American Journalism Review.
In fact, reporters who cover the federal government from a local angle—as the ink-stained Pulitzer Prize-winners from the San Diego Union-Tribune were—have largely disappeared from the American media landscape. Newspapers across the country are cutting corners and shrinking budgets, and the Washington correspondents for local papers are a major casualty.
“Nobody else would've gotten Duke Cunningham” says George Condon, the former Washington bureau chief of the Copley News Service, the company that owns the San Diego Union-Tribune. “USA Today, AP, New York Times, none of them would devote resources to a backbench, local San Diego congressman in that kind of detail.”
Many newspapers are trying to cover the federal government remotely, relying more on wire service reports and national news reports. This creates huge gaps in coverage, as the national issues affecting local areas simply aren’t written about. Bill Walsh, a former Washington correspondent for New Orleans' Times-Picayune, says that less information on the national government will lead already cynical Americans to disengage from the civic process. “That hurts democracy,” says Walsh. “And if there are fewer people to report what is really going on, it adds to the cynicism.”
, licensed under
1/5/2009 4:04:47 PM
When driving directions aren’t enough, the website EveryBlock.com is a resource for in-depth information on just about every neighborhood in town. The website has begun compiling news, photos, and hard-to-find municipal information for 11 U.S. cities so far, including New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Depending on the cities, visitors can find crime reports, graffiti cleanup requests, and even restaurant inspection information, to find out how many health-code violations the local burger joint has racked up.
The website, started by former Washingtonpost.com editor Adrian Holovaty, is more aggregation than news and has no editorial voice. Instead, it relies on algorithms to chose the photos and news stories. That lack of personality is the site’s greatest weakness, Rachel Somerstein writes for Next American City. There’s plenty of information on different areas, but the overall personality of the neighborhood doesn’t come through. The site, according to Somerstein, “is kind of like those flowers for sale at the corner deli—beautiful, perhaps, but when you put your nose to petals, there isn’t any smell.”
For improvements, Somerstein suggests looking to WindyCitizen.com, a Chicago-based site with a similar concept that includes more user-suggested news. EveryBlock.com instead is looking more toward becoming a platform for civic activism, where people could petition government agencies using the site.
Image by David Paul Ohmer
, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/5/2009 11:24:46 AM
The National Conference of Editorial Writers recently released a list of their most-hated journalistic clichés, the mushy euphemisms and trendy phrases that they think ought to be banned. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch excerpted the survey, along with some of the editorialists’ biting commentary:
- Issues and challenges: “No one has problems any more. We have ‘issues.’ Likewise, we have ‘challenges.’…Why isn’t that a ‘problem’?”
- Faith-based: “Almost 100 percent of the time this phrase is used, the user means ‘religious,’ and they should just suck it up and use the real term.”
- Declined comment: “We’re not inviting people to tea parties here. We’re asking questions....They didn’t ‘decline comment.’ They ‘would not comment.’”
- Closure: “An appalling word that crept out from the woodwork of psychobabble where it squats, poisoning the language, above all in journalism.”
(Thanks, Get Religion.)
1/2/2009 9:36:28 AM
Don’t call Judy Maddren a language cop. CBC’s media language advisor insists such work is both “not in her job description” and pretty near impossible. In an interview with Ryerson Review of Journalism, she discusses the complexities of setting standards for the way Canadian journalists use words.
While some of her work sounds an awful lot like policing—like writing memos on the difference between ‘number’ and amount’ or the correct pronunciation of ‘espresso’—much of it also depends on tricky judgment calls. Even simple phrases carry political weight. Maddren offers ‘oil sands’ and ‘tar sands’ as an example. The terms describe the same thing, but are used by opposing sides in a contentious mining debate: The mining industry employs the former, while environmentalists favor the latter. Her job, in cases like these, is to gather the best information she can and make recommendations when appropriate.
It’s a monumental task, if the CBC language file is any indication. The usage guide, which Maddren alone maintains, currently holds over 12,000 entries. Check out the interview to learn more about the purview of a language advisor and to read her thoughts on why it’s such an important position.
Image courtesy of Bethany L. King, licensed under Creative Commons.
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