Friday, January 16, 2009

So, How Cold IS It???

Images of brass monkeys and well-digger's BEE-hinds come to mind. Ah, the cliche'. As young news writers back in the day, we were told a million times to avoid cliches like the plague. (Get it?) At least I've got my health. And on and on. And we knew the difference between "literal" and "figurative". Within arm's reach right now is my well-worn copy of "Warriner's English Grammar and Composition", stolen from Hortonville High School in 1964. (Miss Hince, God rest your grammar-teaching soul, forgive me.....)
OK, it's cold. When I got up this morning, my digital thermometer read -19.7. That would be degrees Fahrenheit, for the sticklers among us. I can't tell you how many discussions I've had over the years in training on-air broadcasters to say "nineteen below zero" rather than "minus 19 degrees". I've always preached the conversational style, but it's largely fallen on deaf ears. The young folks who write news now have never seen nor heard of Warriner's Grammer and Comp, and apparently they've never been taught about avoiding cliches. They learned to read one word at a time, so when they see "-19", they say "minus nineteen", without converting it to the spoken English of "nineteen below". They can say "Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water", but when they're READING it on-air, they say "Jack and Jill went up thee hill to fetch ay pail of water". A mentor of mine called that the "ay-thee disease" so many broadcasters have.
One of the news reporters on TV last night said "Madison has literally become an ice cube". Really? Didn't notice, but then, I live in the Township of Madison, not the city. Maybe things are different a few miles away, and the city has become an ice cube.
But I digress. As newspapers fail and fold (the Minneapolis Star-Trib went bankrupt yesterday, joining the long parade), the news broadcasters will briefly enjoy a period of increased importance in news dissemination, until the internet truly dominates "mainstream media". Yet, when it gets to be twenty below in Wisconsin in the second week of January, every year they'll continue to drag out the same old cliches. "Imagine what it would be like if you had to work outside in this weather!!!" shouted the news promo on a local channel last night. Gee, never thought of doing a story with somebody who has to work outside when it's cold...that's never been done before. New ground broken - NOT. All the local stations, radio and TV, have been peppered this week with the predictable stories about people who work in meat lockers and ice-cream storage warehouses (the same stories will be re-done in July or August, when we get a week of 90+ weather), and they'll follow around some USPS letter carrier, making his or her appointed rounds in the bitter cold.
The Facebook pages of the local broadcasters...many of them personal friends of long standing...are filled this week with back-and-forth about how idiotic these stories are. Yet, they continue to follow the orders of the boss, who says "do a cold weather story". One wag commented on a local TV reporter's Facebook post about bundling up to go outside and do a cold-weather story, "so, we can't know how cold it is unless you stand outside when you're doing the story?"...and another poster said "how stupid that you're going to have to do the story outside, to tell us we shouldn't be outside".
'nuff said. The consumers of the news are more savvy than the people who decide what the news is.
And they wonder why so many news sources are foundering.

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