Friday, August 7, 2009

The Writing Life: Say What?

By JJ Murphy
When I was a graduate student at the William Allen White School of Journalism in Lawrence, Kansas, information considered news was checked and checked again before it was published. Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite represented broadcast journalism’s gold standard.

One of my fundamental lessons was to read copy out loud, uncover and eliminate weak writing before going on the air. I read articles intended for newspaper and magazine publication out loud for the same reason.

Twenty-first-century TV and online journalism has too much entertainment for me to take the content seriously. Many newspapers have stopped print distribution, but I know that bad writing will continue to make it into print, since so many publications appear to have no editors and no proofreaders.

Consider the following:
Miners Refuse to Work After Death – (I wasn’t planning to, either.)
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over – (Is that legal?)
Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers – (With horses, motorcycles, or cruisers?) Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant – (Before or after everything else fails?)
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges – (Is that like duct tape?)
Man Struck By Lightning Faces Battery Charge – (You mean he IS the battery charge?)
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks – (Do they taste like pizza?)
Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half – (With chainsaws? Yikes!)
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead – (Weren’t they already dead?)
Idioms, colloquialisms, and the sheer malleability of the English language make it more difficult to write clearly and concisely. Bad journalistic content only becomes dangerous when the viewers stop laughing and start taking those misleading words seriously.

JJ Murphy is a freelance nature writer, photographer, blogging hiker, forager, locavore, and tree-hugger with more than 50 years of eco-centric living experience. Visit if you need relevant content that captures your personal style and tone.
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