A while ago, I wrote a blog post arguing that overnight publication of newspapers wasn’t contributing to newspaper sales declines. It’s a view I still hold, because in the age of instant communication, how can words placed on a page, then sent to a printing press, then distributed by van possibly compete with the internet for breaking news? Answer: You break the news no-one else does. And that isn’t restricted to putting papers out at lunchtime.
Anyway, the post got picked up by Holdthefrontpage, which wrote an article saying I was ‘hitting back’ at opposing views expressed by, among others, ex-Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson. That stopped me in my tracks. Was I hitting back at Steve? I was, truth be told, prompted to write the post by his opinions, but was I hitting back? Nope. But I supposed in the journalist’s dictionary, I was. I know Steve well. We disagree on a lot of things but we also get on.
Anyway, it would be a little hypocritical and thin-skinned for a journalist to complain of the use of journalese in an article, but it did get me thinking about the words we use when we’re reporting on the world we live in. As local and regional journalists, we pride ourselves on being a window on the world, but how clear is that view when we use words which, bluntly, wouldn’t be used in the same context in real life?
Over the next few days, as I read newspapers, I kept stumbling across words people simply wouldn’t use in real life. With my digital hat on, this potentially causes an SEO problem in headlines. To succeed online, you need to use the words real people use (no-one in Birmingham calls the Christmas market the ‘Frankfurt Christmas Market’ they call it the ‘German Christmas Market’). And having been on the receiving end of countless phonecalls from people complaining about the words used in an article, I can’t help but think rewriting the journalese dictionary would help win over more people.
So I wrote this tweet:
Words we should ban from headlines: Rapped. Unless the person involved is actually rapping.—
(@davidhiggerson) November 01, 2012
And it started a bit of a conversation. Other nominations included:
1. Love rat:
5. Mystery surrounds:
6. Council chiefs:
backed up by this rather succinct argument:
9. Nightspot (or nitespot, I suppose):
also mentioned by:
11. Down Booze
12. Wrecking spree
14. Tzar (unless, obviously you’re talking about the Tsars):
16. Cold Snap
18. Break Down (unless in the car)
20. Drama (unless, of course, it’s about Eastenders)
21. Pot of cash
24. Best Ever:
25. Completely destroyed:
26. Right royal:
28. Anything other than ‘said’:
29. Up in arms:
But the most frequently used word was Quizzed:
Here it is again:
Which as one person observed created this image:
And this one:
Only we use it in gravely serious situations. Why?
Ok, so it’s all slightly tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a serious point to be made here: If our language is so far removed from the words people use normally, is it any wonder they don’t take us as seriously as they used to?
It might be a big leap to make, but if you applied the ‘would this word be used in the pub?’ test to everything written, we’d a) have news stories more suited to search but, and perhaps more importantly, b) news stories which people were more likely to respond to.