Don’t let our news coverage turn into a fusty old gents’ club

Somewhere this morning, someone is making a dramatic bid to crack down on something, possibly after a long-running wrangle or a bitter battle.

They won’t necessarily know they are.

But in newsland, they will be.

Now I yield to no one in my love of a good brandish, or a decent bust-up.

But I think we have to acknowledge that the disconnect between some journalistic language and our audience’s everyday vocabulary – and between our convenient descriptive pigeonholes and the complexity of life on the ground – can be a problem.

One serious aspect of this is that the media can foster an atmosphere of conflict and polarisation because we don’t cope well with shades of grey.

Hence, perhaps the growth of interest in constructive journalism.

What I’m more worried about here, though, is a mismatch between life as it is portrayed in the media and life as it plays out in reality.

Two years ago, journalese was celebrated in a book called Romps, Tots and Boffins: The Strange Language of News.

I’d say it was all hilarious stuff, were that not another word whose meaning has been completely mangled by overuse on news websites.

Now that few of our readers see our print products every day or every week, and that most of them will light upon our web stories via Google or Facebook, we need to make our words work harder.

Because reporters follow every detailed twist and turn of stories, we can assume knowledge and choose angles based on our own hang-ups and baggage.

We need to be better at seeing the world through other people’s eyes, and then filling in the gaps which are a barrier to understanding and engagement.

I’ve said before that we should offer more analysis to make sense of the world  and stop letting middle class men in their 70s determine our news agenda.

The real danger posed by our lazy language and incomplete insight is that our coverage is like the kind of stuffy London gentleman’s club beloved of

Rowley Birkin - You Tube

The Fast Show’s Rowley Birkin character (Picture: YouTube)

The Fast Show’s Rowley Birkin QC.

Membership is declining, the clientele is both unrepresentative and dying, and the atmosphere intimidating, off-putting and fusty.

It’s time for an ambitious bid to crack down on journalese.

There could be some wrangles – not to mention the odd bust-up.

But if we don’t freshen up our language and our approach, we run the risk of smothering our readers to death.


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