Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I Can't Stand ABC-TV News

They speak a language which is so harsh to my ears that I am repulsed by their broadcasts. Apparently some consultant told all of the reporters, and many of the anchors, that the words “is, are, was, were, have, and had” are not to be written or spoken.

If you grew up as long ago as I did, you learned in grade school that these words, and a few others, are called “auxiliary verbs” by the grammar folks. Or, sometimes, just “helping verbs”.  Helping in the sense that they help us understand the meaning of the intended communication.

Take this sentence, for example: “Authorities looking for a cause.” It sort of makes your “inner voice” anticipate what comes next…and your mind may even begin to complete this sentence fragment by starting to form a complete sentence, like “Authorities, looking for a cause, are leaving no stone unturned”.

But in the horrible jargon that so much broadcast news has devolved into, particularly at ABC, the sentence fragment “Authorities looking for a cause” is foisted at us as if it were communicative, because the consultants (and the newsspeak people) won’t put the word “are” into the sentence, to make it a simple, declarative sentence, which is immediately understandable: “Authorities ARE looking for a cause.”

Just for fun, turn on an ABC-TV national newscast. Listen to see how many times during any given story the reporter will drop the auxiliary verbs out of his or her report. It will sound something like this: “A wildfire (is) burning out of control in central California. Authorities (are) still trying to figure out how it started. Residents (are) saying they had no way to escape and had to hunker down in their homes. Evacuation centers (are) being set up in neighboring communities.

This sort of newsspeak is supposed to give you a sense of immediacy, but for most of us, it’s just annoying, because no one except news reporters ever speaks that way. It creates what other consultants – those who advocate the use of conversational English – call “listener/viewer fatigue”. Your mind simply gets tired of having to insert all the auxiliary verbs the reporter leaves out.

Other network reporters, and plenty of local folks, to be sure, speak in this strange manner, but I’ve noticed that at ABC-TV over the past couple of months, it’s become nearly universal.

 This will all change again in a few years, when a new set of consultants holds sway with the networks. Meantime, I find ABC-TV News to be unwatchable.


  1. There's always been a sense in the media (both TV and radio) that there's a particular way we should speak that is not the way our audience speaks. So newscasters talk about "officer-involved shootings" and radio jocks say things like "23 minutes now past the hour of 8 o'clock." It's ingrained in some veteran media people to such a great extent changing the habit would be like removing a limb. But when you hear these just-out-of-college TV-reporter babies do it, you know it's not habit, it's something they've been deliberately *taught* to do.

    Simple rule: write like people talk. Use jargon only when it would add to the audience's understanding of the subject (which is seldom). If your high school English teacher would tell you not to do something that way, don't.

  2. I never watch ABC news, national or local, since Harry Reasoner couldn't hide his contempt for his co- anchor Barbara Walters. Locally, I disliked the smugness of Scott Klug and well, Doomsday Bob is still.. Doomsday Bob. I had tremendous respect for John Chancellor and then Tom Brokaw on NBC, because Dan Blather could never fill Uncle Walter's shoes. Brian Williams was a showboat, and at least Bob Scheiffer had the gravitas as a Journalist. (my dad liked nbc, mom, cbs, and I wanted to watch mcneill/leherer. We actually rolled a die to see which we would watch, I'm 50 this year.) NBC has done itself a favor by giving the chair to Lester Holt, but by that time, I had settled on CBS, for the continuity, since I have always liked the diversity of News3. ( Ted, John K, and esp, Neil's Editorials) News 3 seems to me the best run organisation, while 15 just cycles through too many students who just move on when you get used to the new face. ( we did like rick featherston, pam t. and brian brosamle (who you can still hear when you call MGE)

    T. Shockley notwitstanding, I just feel that WISC has the most investment in the sc wi area. They have always seemed to be the place where any journo would want to work, I loved the hum of their newsroom when I had the chance to visit ( I have seen all three) and the depth was just there. I hope they find someone as good as Tom Bier, he was a rock for their newsroom.

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