Enemy of the people

jfk_day1_deathannouncementFriends, neighbors, family members, I come here to provide insight to my industry, to my career, not to praise it.

I grew up in an era when the most trusted man in America was Walter Cronkite. He sat in our living rooms and delivered depressing news of war and grief with a gentleness that put you at ease. The crack in his voice when Uncle Walter told us of President Kennedy’s death was an unintended moment of transparency that said he was one of us, not some haughty celebrity imparting wisdom from on high, but a trusted confidant. To many of us, Walter Cronkite, a member of what is now known as the “mainstream media”, was as honest as mom’s loving embrace.

What happened? Did the business of delivering news change, or is it the attitudes of those who digest the news?

Actually, it’s both.

The last five years have brought more jarring changes to my industry that the previous thirty. It’s not just me and the journalists from other local media outlets out there hunting for news. The mushroom cloud that is social media allows just about anyone walking by a crime scene to serve as a “reporter”. Snippets of “news” fly at you that come, at times, with conjecture and alarm. I’m not trashing social media, because I use it. But information there can be so fast paced and so very unfiltered. Often, it is our job as experienced journalists to wade through the hysteria to find what’s true and what’s not. It can get confusing for those who consume it all. Who do you trust, the journalist appearing on your television screen, or the 140 characters and the hashtag you saw an hour ago?

Podcasts, blogs, phone apps…it’s overwhelming. I thought BuzzFeed was a place to find out which character from Gilligan’s Island you are most like. Now I find they have a news department. So does Yahoo, Google, and…Comedy Central. Yes, there are people who lump The Daily Show, a comedic parody, with NBC, Fox, and CNN.

It’s confusing for everybody.

Recently, I’ve read references to “the media” as if it was some single, giant, amorphous being sitting in a dark star chamber dictating who gets to know what. Instead, it is a collection of individuals, real human beings with different backgrounds, experiences, and motives for pursuing a career in this often vilified industry. We go about our work in different ways, but when it comes to building trust, the rules are the same. Journalists must be honest. Mislead your viewers, or a source, and your credibility vanishes. You must be fair. There are often ten sides to a story, and the truth can be hard to find. You can’t take shortcuts.

Those who fake it don’t last. They never do.

I find it important to let everyone in earshot know that I’m nothing special. I make mistakes just like everyone else, and I’m not above admitting it. I have the same struggles and insecurities that you do. Stress often gets the better of me. I do my very best to treat everyone with respect. Sometimes I fail. It’s the cost of being human.

The recent criticism of my business is something I don’t take personally. Instead, I view it as a challenge. The accusations of “fake news” and corruption are coming from more than one place. Even if it’s perception over reality, it should be a concern for every single journalist. There are people in this country who simply don’t believe us, no matter how pure our motives, no matter how hard we work to find and reveal the real truth, and not just our version of it. So, we have to work harder. It’s the only solution.

Lashing out at those who criticize us isn’t productive. I’m not saying we need to back away from our responsibility to hold the powerful accountable, to question and dig and hold our elected officials responsible for their actions. But we have to go about our work fully aware that there are people who do see us as biased and selfish. We need to be more honest than ever, more transparent than ever. We need to be humble. We need to listen.

There are, indeed, people out there posing as journalists who do have an agenda. As true journalists, we need to be more responsible than ever so our voices are heard over the distracting cacophony.

We need to let America hear the crack in our voice, as Walter Cronkite did so long ago.

I sure wish the most trusted man in America was still around to provide some sound advice.

Something tells me that in his gentle, avuncular way, he would remove his glasses, look at me through the television screen, and tell me to stay true to the honest, God fearing values that led me to this business in the first place.

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Nice to meet you, Sen. Shealy

Screenshot 2016-07-10 at 3.01.27 PMI don’t know Katrina Frye Shealy, and she doesn’t know me.

I think it’s time we got acquainted.

In the face of the violence and discord that currently plagues our country, the state senator from South Carolina has suggested that, more than likely, members of the media are our nation’s biggest problem. People in my line of work, in Sen. Shealy’s own words, sensationalize everything. We stir the pot. We fuel a blazing fire. Silencing us for a month, she believes, might make our world a better place.

On Facebook, her supporters have referred to news reporters as “the enemy.”

I have to wonder if Sen. Shealy actually knows anyone involved in the media. I’m not talking about knowing them on a working level. I wonder if she’s familiar with the true heart and motivation of anyone who works in my business.

Sen. Shealy, let me introduce myself.

My name is Jerry Carnes. I’ve been a news reporter for more than thirty years. I am a child of the south, raised by Southern Baptists who taught me to work hard, love God, and to respect others. My father grew up in poverty, but worked hard to become an Olympic track coach. My mother had to overcome the scars of abandonment inflicted by a rather cruel father. She is the single strongest woman I’ve ever known.

Most of all, my parents taught me about humility. It is why I lean heavily on the words of the Apostle Paul:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourself.

I have witnessed more than most people ever should. I saw a man die in the electric chair. I arrived too early to a crime scene to find an infant lying in the street, shot to death by her own father. These are images that stay with you for a lifetime.

I know grief. I lost my father to cancer in 2011. It is a loss that has left a giant crater in my heart. I lost a cousin to the war in Iraq. This year alone, my church youth group has lost two of its members to tragedy. These are tender young lives who once called me their Sunday school teacher. I went on mission trips with them. Time and time again, my heart breaks.

It has made me more sympathetic to the pain of others. Over the past thirty years, I’ve talked to scores of people who have suffered from senseless tragedy. I’ve served as both reporter and counselor. There have been many times when the talking has gone on long after the camera was turned off. I do all I can do to lighten their burden rather than add to it. For thirty years, I’ve carried home the weight of second hand grief. It is the strength of God that keeps that weight from crushing me.

I am a natural born storyteller. That’s why I got into the business. Reporting has given me opportunities to shed light on wrongdoing, to give a voice to the voiceless. My favorite moments, however, have come when allowed to share stories of human triumph. I will never forget the uplifting bond created between a young lady who survived a plane crash, and the elderly couple who ran to her aid. The couple lived near the Carroll County cornfield where the plane erupted into a ball of fire. I met them at the hospital, where they remained at the young girl’s bedside until she’d healed enough to return home. By then, they were practically family. Out of incredible tragedy, love and compassion appeared. Good came from bad.

My years in television news have taught me that, at times, the presence of a camera can add to hostility or pain. As a veteran, I’ve learned to recognize the need to shed light on a moment, and the need to go dark.

Violence, hatred, and prejudice of any kind breaks my heart. I mourn often. I’ve mourned more this year, it seems, than ever before. I weep when I see our country torn apart in disagreement over how to end the rash of hatred. When others hurt, I hurt. I also have faith that we will rise again, stronger than ever.

I have been married for 31 years. My wife is an artist who runs her own business from our home. We have three children. Our oldest is married. He works for a non-profit and volunteers as the social media director of his church. Our middle child is a nurse. She is also married. Her husband works as an audio engineer for a church in Charlotte. Our youngest is about to leave home for college, where she plans to prepare for a career as a special education teacher. I’m immensely proud of them all.

Sen. Shealy, I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes during my long career in this business, and I beg your forgiveness. Working as a news reporter carries with it incredible responsibility. I know there have been times when I’ve taken that responsibility too lightly. I’m human, and that’s my point here. When you refer to the “media,” you’re not talking about a giant ogre that needs to be slain. We are individuals. Each and every one of us has a heart that has been molded by individual experiences. Each of us has our own faults and stumbles. Each of us, as individuals, deal with our own failures.

Now that you know something about me, I hope you’ll see that I would never intentionally sensationalize anything, or purposely throw fuel on a fire. Compassion is a driving force behind my work, which is why I devote so many hours warning others about the risks of prostate cancer. It’s the disease that took my father. Oh, I am not remarkable, by the way. Not by any means. There are plenty of reporters who have seen more than me, endured much worse, and learned a lot more. There are journalists who are much smarter and far more compassionate. I can introduce you to some reporters who would really impress you with the many ways that they’ve bettered the world. If you got to know them, you wouldn’t want to silence them for a half-second, much less a month.

I can get better at what I do. No question about it. We can all do better. But I think it would be a huge mistake to silence us. Yes, we do sometimes throw light on issues that make us uncomfortable. Extinguishing that light, even for a month, would leave us all in the dark. With all respect, I pray that you would consider that.

It was nice to meet you.

 

As Luck would have it

luckI suffer from a very strange affliction that has no medical cure, and yet is nothing that should cause worry for my friends, family, or anyone at the Mayo Clinic.

It’s called FoMO.

Fear of Missing Out.

FoMO means you can’t take a hike through the north Georgia mountains without checking your inbox. There’s no enjoying an afternoon on the front porch swing without pondering the trending hashtags on Twitter. Your wife is in the midst of providing detail of Uncle Henry’s appendectomy, when you hear Facebook calling.

FoMO.

Imagine arriving at work to find your co-workers discussing the wildly popular video of Bigfoot chasing a DUI suspect on Georgia 400. You search your rancid breakroom coffee for a way to contribute. You spent the previous night organizing your collection of flavored dental floss. You’re a newsman who is out of the loop, a virtual sasquatch in a viral video world.

There’s nothing wrong with staying up-to-date, but my affliction goes above and beyond. I work the morning shift, which means I typically get home around 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The work day is over. Supposedly. Not for my brain. The rest of the world continues to work, and I need to know what the world is doing. I continue to check my emails. I check Twitter. Then my email. Then Twitter. Finally, I force myself to unplug by going on a long walk. Hey, iPhones need exercise, too. Step, step, Facebook. Step, step, email.

All day long, I’m stimulated by a bombardment of information. It’s more powerful than caffeine. I come home with a buzz that’s difficult to calm. I want more. I have to have more.

I’m reading a book written by a man who attempts one year adhering literally to the rules of the Bible. When he gets to the part about setting aside one day of the week for rest, he struggles. He makes his own rules. He decides it’s okay to check email, as long as he’s just reading the topic line. He knows that’s not following the Bible literally, but…he simply can’t help himself. One day away from the stimulation is like leaving a child on a deserted island.

There’s a reason why our brains have an off switch. No one can go full speed every moment of every day. You need to recharge. I’m not sure why I have to work so hard at not working.

I like the Chick-fil-A approach to the problem. The restaurant chain encourages diners to place their iphones in a “coop” during their meal. And leave it there. No Instagram checks. No looking at a text. Imagine. Your attention is free to have an actual conversation with your dining partner. Finish your meal without a single swipe of the screen, and you get a free ice cream.

Me? I’m lactose intolerant. Of course.

My brother owns a cabin that we visit on occasion where there is no cell service. None. It’s in a place called Luck, North Carolina, which isn’t a town as much as it is, well, my brother’s cabin. We spend peaceful days there going on hikes along the nearby Appalachian Trail. We sit by the fire pit and read. Conversations are filled with laughter rather than stress. With a little Luck, you’re forced to unplug.

I need bring a little Luck to my home. Maybe I’ll create a little coop where my urge-to-know can take a timeout for a few hours a day. I know my brain could use the rest.

There. I finished this blog without once pausing to check email or Twitter.

Now I need to work on my honesty.

The TK76 factor

tk76The times, they are a changin’.

On August 23, 1982, I walked into the newsroom of WRBL-TV, and entered the world of professional journalism. With one hand, the news director gave me a hearty pat on the back, and with the other, he handed me a camera as big as an armored car. With an RCA TK76 digging into my bony shoulder and sweat gushing from every pore, I shot my first news story.

The TK76 is now an extra-large part of television history. During my 34 years in the business, we’ve switched from hefty ¾” tape, to Beta, to digital video tape, to digital cards. Broadcast cameras, once large enough to break you in two, are now the size of the handheld version you cart to Disney World. The equipment has gotten smaller as our responsibilities have grown. We’re now asked to feed not just a newscast or two, but our website and several social media platforms. We can do live shots with our phones.

Change in television news is constant and inevitable. Sometimes, it’s downright sad.

I am lucky enough to have worked with some of Atlanta’s television legends. John Pruitt is a cherished mentor. There was Guy Sharpe, Chuck Moore, Johnny Beckman, Joe Washington, Randy Waters, and Bruce Erion. I once thought of them as irreplaceable. They’ve all been replaced.

The look of my television station is changing again by way of a mass retirement. Donna Lowry. Keith Whitney. Kevin Rowson. They are among a group of vastly experienced journalists who are saying good-bye to WXIA-TV. If you know these people only through their on-screen work, trust me, you’re missing out. They are much more than a one minute blip on the tube. These are loving parents, good friends, hard workers. They care about you. They do. If you happened upon them at the grocery store or a dinner party, you would like them. You would understand immediately why they’ve lasted so long in a challenging business.

None of these people got into television news for the money or the notoriety. Young journalists motivated by wealth and fame don’t last. Donna, Keith, Kevin, photographers Mike Zakel, Steve Flood, and Ron Nakfoor, they lasted decades in this business because of much more. They all got into it because of a hunger to tell good stories, a passion to find the truth, and their ability to relate to people. They all spent time working in snow, or with the sting of a hurricane against their cheek, or with the miserable feel of a TK76 on their shoulder. And they kept coming back. Because they love it.

Good journalism doesn’t come from a can of hairspray. Passion always outweighs discomfort.

Times change. People retire. I’ve witnessed a lot of departures during my 27-years with WXIA. This time, we’re talking about people who are close to my age.

Their exit brings reflection.

I wear a lot of gray now, but I don’t really notice because my vision isn’t so sharp. I don’t bounce back from long work days the way I once did. The passion is still there, but the body is struggling to keep pace.

More than once, I’ve contemplated the end of my broadcast career. It will happen one of several ways. I could leave on my own terms, when the body and the bank account agree there’s a nice comfortable chair waiting for me at the beach. It may require encouragement from bosses who feel I’ve outlived my usefulness. There are a few of my snarkier friends who may tell you that time has already arrived. I’m looking at you, Randy Waters.

I remember a conversation many years ago with affable weatherman Guy Sharpe. If Atlanta television had a Mt. Rushmore, Guy’s face would be on it. He was nearing the end of his television career, and he knew it. He accepted Father Time’s command with grace, refusing to grow bitter toward a business that often demands younger, faster, and better looking.

For now, I still have some good years left in me, and I get to work with journalism’s next generation. My desk is surrounded with energetic young reporters eager to dig, to work, to inform. They are not burdened with ego. They are the Donna Lowry, Kevin Rowson, and Keith Whitney of thirty years ago.

And they never had to work with that blasted TK76.

Right now, my heart is as heavy as that burdensome camera my boss dropped on my shoulder so long ago. Our newsroom is about to experience a void. We’re losing some classy people. Solid journalists. Treasured companions.

So long, friends. We will miss you.

See you on the late news, alligator

me and the gatorI’m fascinated with alligators.

Gators don’t worry. They take what the swamp gives them with slow confidence. They don’t bother you unless you mess with them, and why would you mess with a prehistoric creature wearing fangs? They don’t complain.

They have a thick skin.

While I lack the chops of an alligator, I find a thick skin comes in handy. It seems there are a great many people who have lost respect for my line of work, and aren’t afraid to tell you. Emphatically.

For example.

This past winter, I was stationed on an icy Cobb Parkway preparing to warn unknowing motorist of the slick hazards. A truck in bad need of a new muffler rolled by, driven by a man who was even louder than his faulty exhaust.

“Leave us alone you #@*% liberal commie.”

It’s not the first time I have been the target of drive-by insults, and it won’t be the last. Assumptions about my character based on my job confuses me a bit. It always has. I’d rather someone get to know me before deciding to dislike me.

There was actually a time when my profession wasn’t lumped together with carjackers and telemarketers. I remember the days when people viewed me as somewhat of an authority figure. It was a little weird. They felt an obligation to grant an interview, even when circumstance should have told them to steer clear. Now, it’s more likely I’ll find a lawyer, a pitbull, or a locked door standing between me and my quarry.

There are many who see journalists as biased. We have an agenda. Some of my own neighbors, even some members of my Sunday school class, believe journalists to be Godless, manipulative liars. Never referring to me specifically, they proclaim their displeasure with members of the dreaded media.

No one in my business is perfect. Some of us are hard to like. Many of us have inflated egos. Most are really good people trying to earn a living under circumstances that are often quite difficult and quite often downright depressing. That’s not a complaint or an excuse. That’s my job. I have seen death, grief, celebration, inspiration, confusion, anger, hatred, love, compassion…just about everything. It has molded me. It has helped make me who I am.

I’m willing to give you a glimpse into who I am so the next time you see me on television, you can render judgement based on my actual character rather something perceived.

I am a Christian. That means it is most important for me to love God and love others. All others. I often fail to do that. It doesn’t make me a hypocrite, it makes me human. I need forgiveness for the times I fail, so it is imperative that I extend grace to others. If I don’t forgive, that does make me a hypocrite.

I am a husband. I married my best friend, and I cherish my life with her. We were practically kids when we met. We’ve grown and changed a lot since then. She has put up with my weird hours and the second hand stress from my job. She deserves a Nobel Prize for tolerance. The longer we’re married, the more I appreciate her.

I am a father. I have three amazing children. My wife and I have tried very hard to let our children know how much we love them. Cady gave up her career to stay home and nurture them. I give her all the credit for raising three smart, compassionate children. We are very, very lucky.

I am a son. I lost my father to cancer, and the grief is still with me. He taught me the value of working hard and giving your best, and that stays with me, too. My mother taught me that adversity and pain can make you stronger and better. She’s faced challenges that would have toppled most people, and yet she’s 80-years-old and standing tall. My parents are a blessing to me.

I talk too much. I got in a lot of trouble during my formative years for opening my mouth when I should have kept it closed. Too often, I was loud and disruptive. There were teachers who tried, without much success, to stifle me. There were a few who channeled my verbal energy into something productive. From that, a career was born. I have grown to know the value of curbing your tongue, and I do struggle at times to control myself. I’m a work in progress. At the age of 57. Go figure.

Let me touch on the issue of bias. Journalists are biased. Of course we are. We are human beings. We are not automatons who lack feeling and emotion. We are shaped by our upbringing and experiences, just like you. Our job is to keep our bias from influencing our reporting. This can be tough. Take, for example, the issue of cancer. I’m a survivor. I lost my father to cancer. Now, ask me to report on the amount of money going toward cancer research, or the need for exams that might detect cancer. Clearly, I’m going to have a bias. Not everyone is going to view the issue the way I see it. My job, however, is to remain open minded. Hear all sides. Present all sides impartially. You try it. Try leaving your deep seeded emotions out of a conversation. That’s my job, and I take it quite seriously.

Here’s a little more insight into this particular journalist. I’m not going to try to claim I do everything just right. I can always do a better job. Always. I am open to hearing your critiques, criticisms, opinions, and recommendations. I may not share your opinion of my work, but I’d be foolish not to listen. You can even drive by and yell at me when I’m knee deep in snow. That’s fine. I prefer that you keep it clean, but that’s up to you. Whatever you say, I’ve likely heard it before.

This old alligator has been around a long time.

If it loves, it leads

barista prayerIf it bleeds, it leads.

This may or may not be an actual quote from an anonymous newsman from an undetermined era working in an unknown newsroom. It doesn’t matter if these words were actually spoken or not. It is generally accepted as the defining attitude of journalists everywhere.

We are callused.

We are insensitive.

We are jaded.

We lack compassion.

We love the taste of blood. Someone else’s blood. Anyone else.

Some of the characterizations are deserved. To borrow from a Jimmy Buffett song, in my line of work, I seem to see a lot more than most. Witness enough tragedy, carry home enough second-hand grief, and you get heavy. Jaded happens. Weary from the work, some journalists do, indeed, forget about compassion and sensitivity. Others can’t lean on that excuse. Let’s face it, some people are just jerks. Reporters are people. There are a few who will salivate and high five over a plane crash. I have no explanation for that.

If it bleeds, it leads.

Boy, have I got a lead for you. This one will stem the bleeding.

News operations across the country have been telling the story of Pierce Dunn and Evan Freeman. They’re baristas in Vancouver, Washington, coffee mixologists working a cramped drive-thru during the morning rush. One morning, they encountered a woman who needed more than a triple mocha latte.

Barbara Danner was having a bad day. She broke down in the  Dutch Bros Coffee drive-thru, right in front of our friends Pierce and Evan. Not broke down as in her Volvo overheated, I mean broke down like emotional bankruptcy. She’d lost her husband the night before. She couldn’t move. At most drive-thrus, that would earn you an earful of horn and an offensive finger, maybe a free decaf.

Not at Dutch Bros.

“I was like, there’s nothing more you need to say,” said Pierce Dunn. “We got this. We’re going to do what we do every time we get someone who’s in pain or hurt. We’re going to give them our love.”

One of the drivers behind Danner snapped a picture of Pierce, Evan, and another employee with their heads bowed, their eyes closed, their hands comforting an overwhelmed widow. The coffee orders were put on hold while the group prayed. The baristas whipped up a Grande cup of peace and assurance.

The image of the caffeine-free group hug has gone viral. So have Pierce and Evan.

“If every single person did an act of kindness or just had a smile on their face, the world would be a completely different place,” said Dunn.

Who knew there was a coffee shop that served high octane moral guidance?

I don’t know what was going on the night reporters from Seattle and Portland covered this story. And they did cover it. It’s likely the 11 o’clock news kicked off with a scandal, a smash and grab, or a sizzling investigation. The drive-thru prayer probably played toward the end of the show. News producers like to leave you on a high note.

What if the producers put it at the top of the newscast? What if, for one night, compassion trumped car chases, decency outdid disaster, kindness was more important than a random killing?

What if?

“If every single person did an act of kindness, the world would be a completely different place.”

A different place.

I’ve worked with producers bold enough to start the news with a story like this. Realistically, you can’t do it on a night when there’s breaking disaster, or high drama in the courts, or shenanigans in the legislature. But there are days when the lead story is basically a repeat of what we’ve seen a million times before, and something like this…

A different place.

I would love to see it happen more often, a newscast where the lead story has sweat and tears.

But no blood.

Hard of hearing

mySuperLamePic_07503e78cc25a9ac1e8acbe63c909b6aMost of you will never have to deal with an intrusive news reporter. Unless you’ve done something noble and deserving of a public pat on the back, you’d likely prefer to avoid me and my ilk.

But there are people employed to deal with members of the media, Lord bless their souls. They are paid by private companies or governmental agencies to serve as a contact point for inquiring minds from the fourth estate. Sometimes, they are helpful liaisons who provide pertinent interviews and information.

Not always.

Sometimes, the subject matter is controversial, even scandalous. When that happens, the tone commonly changes.

Here are some of the reactions we reporters receive when our questions involve sensitive subjects, and the message we hear.

 

What they say— Where did this come from? You know, this is not really a story.

What we hear— How did you find out about this embarrassing event that we’ve been working to keep a secret? Although it’s a complete waste of time for me to tell you it’s not a story, right now I can’t think of anything else to say that might dissuade you from pursuing this.

 

What they say— We’ll send you a written statement.

What we hear— We’re going to tell you what we want you to know about this, and nothing more. If we agree to an on-camera interview, it means you’ll have the opportunity to hold our feet to the fire about issues we’d rather not address.

 

What they say— You’ll need to file an Open Records Request.

What we hear— I can get that documentation for you quite easily, but I need to make this as difficult and expensive as I can for you in hopes that you’ll go away.

 

What they say— What’s your deadline?

What we hear— I plan to wait until the last possible second to get the answer to your question, and it won’t really answer you at all. This will cause you the most stress and possibly fluster you so you appear uncomfortable on-air.

 

What they say— Can I call you right back?

What we hear— I’m not calling you back. Send me an email.

 

What they say— I used to work in a newsroom.

What we hear— I don’t work in a newsroom anymore.

 

What they say— Have you called (insert name of another agency here)?

What we hear— I need you to call someone else about this, even though they have nothing to do with it. The purpose is to distract you for a couple of hours while I think of a way to respond.

 

What they say— Why are you guys always so sensational?

What we hear— I know reporters don’t like to be accused of being sensational, and I’m throwing that out there to knock you off guard. It doesn’t really mean anything, and it doesn’t mean that the issue you’re asking about isn’t legitimate.

 

What they say– Can you send me your questions in an email?

What we hear— Written statement coming. Your request to interview someone in person is summarily denied.

 

Allow me to add that I have great respect and empathy for the people hired to deal with pesky people like me. They field questions on topics that are not of their making. Their answers are often directed from above.

Most of the media reps I encounter on a regular basis are cordial and even helpful, even when the story may place their organization in an unflattering light. Even the ones who give me the “I worked in a newsroom and I don’t think this is a story” line end up providing the information I need. There have even been times when a respectful discussion has convinced me a story isn’t as big as I initially thought.

But there are times…

Of course, it’s not their job to make my life easier.

Or improve my hearing.

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.