The potholes of television news

literallyYour tires cringe each time they strike a ragged pothole. I cringe when I hear the following on a television news broadcast:

Literally— It is literally the most overused word in the English language. It’s a deceiving little word that makes you think it’s useful, when it’s not. Rather, it is the seed of redundancy. When the Vatican was busy choosing a new Pope, a reporter told Atlanta that, “Catholics are literally glued to their television sets.” There was literally no sign of anyone with a plasma screen attached to their forehead.

Brutal murder— There’s no such thing as a polite murder. Murder is, by definition, cold and violent. It is brutal in nature. There is no need to make one murder appear more devastating than another. Sure, there are homicides that are more savage than others, but they’re all brutal.

The missing child has been found— Once a child, or an adult for that matter, has been found, they’re no longer missing. The missing part drops from their description the moment they’re located. It doesn’t require an excruciating amount of effort to say something like, “After a seven hour search, police have located a 10-year-old boy.” It’s awkward to show video of a child wrapped in his mother’s arms while continuing to refer to him as “missing.”

Totally destroyed— This is another professor at the University of Redundancy. If a building is “destroyed,” then it’s gone. No one is going to live there again. To say that it’s “totally destroyed” is saying…that it’s gone. That no one is going to live there again.

The fire left five families homeless— Okay, in some cases, there are fire victims who lack the resources to find shelter. However, referring to fire victims as “homeless” has become a lazy writing tool. If my house burned to the ground, I would not earn the distinction of homelessness. When you see the victims of an apartment fire, their options are typically not limited to sleeping beneath a highway overpass. To say a victim of an apartment fire has been left “homeless,” is assuming they have no insurance, or family, or that the complex won’t move them into an unharmed unit. They’ve been displaced. They’ve lost one home. There is usually another one waiting.

The Mayor had no comment— It was fine for Woodward and Bernstein. Let’s move on. The Mayor refused to talk to us. The Mayor ignored our questions. We asked the Mayor’s staff for an interview, but they haven’t responded. The Mayor suggested we go skydiving without a parachute. The “no comment” line is as worn as the tires on my 1996 Toyota.

Exclusive— If a reporter calls something exclusive, it better be exclusive. I’ve seen too many cases where it was not. Sometimes, journalists will attach “exclusive” to a semi-meaningless nugget in a desperate attempt to bring importance to their story. If a story is powerful enough, it doesn’t need the “exclusive” label. Your competitors know they missed out. The term “exclusive” has gotten so watered down over the years. It’s our fault for using it improperly.

Up in arms— Yet another overused phrase. People who are upset don’t automatically lift their arms over their heads. In fact, I’m not really sure what this term means. When someone is upset, they’re usually down, not up. By arms, do we mean weapons? I think it’s time to give “up in arms” a big hand for it’s dedicated service, and a spot in the retirement home.

That’s literally it for now.




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