The Lion Nags The Boston Globe Writers. To The Woodshed With Them!

The Lion’s eye caught a couple of little things today that cast light on the state of journalism and the ways in which it fails the public.

The first is by Robert Weisman, of the Globe staff:

When the economy finally snaps back, technology is expected be the catalyst that pulls the state out of its doldrums, just as it has done in the past.

Writers of modern journalism like to make their writing lively, even snappy, to the point that snappiness overrides good journalism.

Weisman, by his choice of word here (snap), is either trying to spice up his sentence without reference to the reality he is reporting on, or he is clairvoyant and knows something that the economists and other experts don’t.

He is creating a false expectation that the economy will recover quickly, but has absolutely no justification for what amounts to his prediction of the economy’s behavior. He’s offering  an opinion through his word choice, and that’s not his job.

The second example comes from a story by Noah Bierman, who writes about an outspoken dissenter on the board of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

“It’s not just the tolls itself. It’s the impact on the region,” she said, launching into a practiced polemic on fairness. “The tollpayer needs a voice.”

Bierman immediately prejudices the story against Mary Connaughton with his phrase ‘practiced polemic’, categorizing dissent as polemicism before he has offered her a voice in the story. Bierman should have stopped the sentence at ‘she said’.

One woman’s polemic may well be the reasoned dissenting view of another.

The Lion could of course be accused of nitpicking. What difference does a word or two make here and there? But the issue goes to the credibility of the news. If a reporter takes a view, whether deliberate or not, in a news story, then the story cannot be trusted. He is supposed to report facts. A. B. C. He said. She said. The report said.

But when the reporter says the economy will ‘snap back’, or that an interviewee’s dissent is a polemic, he’s expressing a point of view. Once he does that the reader must hold the story suspect, and ask if the reporter has cherry picked facts to support his opinion, or if indeed he is even reporting fact.

An intelligent newspaper reader can likely sort through an article, but he cannot be sure, unless he’s an expert on the subject, that the reporter has reported fact without bias.

The unintelligent, uncritical reader will simply accept what’s being said if it appears to agree with his view of the world.

There is not enough of the former going on, and far too much of the latter. Bierman and Weisman, and the Globe’s editors, owe their readers better reporting and writing.


2 Responses

  1. Robert Heinlein made a point in several of his novels, notably in “If This Goes On” (about the rise of a religious dictatorship in the U.S.), that it’s perfectly possible, by subtly choosing among nominal synonyms, to construct a piece of propaganda with devastating overall emotional impact without ever using a single memorable phrase.


  2. b.t. –

    Can’t argue with that. A skilled writer can bring down a nation. It’s interesting watching the Republicans trying to topple Obama and the Congressional Democrats – they’re using meat cleavers and sledge hammers, metaphorically speaking, instead of Heinleinian linguistics.


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