Friday, February 5, 2010

How Too Right The Gnus Good

My rant Tuesday (“The Pullet Surprise”) is still drawing comments from my friends in the media and the news biz. In it, I whined about how the children doing news these days aren’t very good at it, are horrible writers and poor speakers, and don’t seem to have much real curiosity about things. And it seems none of them are really up on what used to be called “current events”.

My friend and fellow media conspirator Glen Gardner posted a link to the rant on his Facebook page, and the comments started pouring in to me. The rant was also picked up by a friend who’s spent his life programming and running radio stations, and his comment under the link he posted was something along the lines of “broadcast news these days seems to be more of a Junior Achievement project than a professional enterprise”. There was a long string of posts under it, agreeing, and giving more examples.

More examples aren’t needed. There are plenty. Just take a look at the Facebook group “Overheard in the Newsroom”.

My wife, whose journalistic credentials are impeccable and include 30 years of award-winning radio and TV news reporting, a presentation at the highly regarded NewsLab in Washington DC, and a seminar at the prestigious Poynter Institute in Florida, had a laugh with me the morning after my rant ran. One of the local TV anchors doing a story about a fire informed us that “the house suffered major damage”.

We both said “how much did the house suffer” and she added “I wonder if it cried”.

The word the news writer was looking for is “sustained”, not “suffered”, and not that many years ago, before the decimation of newsrooms everywhere, a senior staffer would have caught the error and pointed it out to the person. But now, senior staffers – like my wife and me – don’t haunt broadcast newsrooms any more. The children are in charge.

One of the commenters to my rant said “Total stupidity is not limited to journalists. Denuding most organizations of senior-level supervisors and/or senior level producers (worker-bees) has resulted in zillions of stupid and uninformed decisions. But hey! Experience costs money, and we can’t afford all that experience.”

How well I know.

The evening after my rant ran, Brian Williams introduced a story on the NBC Nightly News by saying “It’s the three-week anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti”. Say WHAT? Three-week anniversary? What child wrote that – and why didn’t Williams catch it? The Latin root of the word anniversary….anni….means “year”. So, not only can you not have a “three week anniversary” (how about writing “It’s been three weeks since the devastating earthquake struck Haiti”), you shouldn’t write stuff like “Fifty-year anniversary” (in English, that’s “Fiftieth anniversary”), although everybody from the network people to the local newspaper reporters do it.

They should know better, and there aren’t those “experienced people” around any more to catch such an obvious mistake.

If you’re still with me here, and enjoy a well-written news story and decry the decline of standards in the news biz, follow the group called “Fake AP Stylebook” on Twitter. Whoever’s writing that stuff is really good, really funny, and for too many news organizations today, their Tweets hit way too close to home.

In closing, just let me use the horrid cliché that you hear night after night on local TV: “The incident remains under investigation”.