Are We Getting Soft?
By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
Late last week, Prime Minister Trudeau said he was "disappointed" to learn two Canadians being held in China, had been charged with spying. Journalist Alex Pierson mocked him on Twitter by saying "Easy now. Careful with the tough language."
Obviously Trudeau's response was totally political. These days however, I see one case after another where softer, gentler words and terms are used. They might miss the mark on communication, but they don't offend anyone.
Spin doctors try to massage the words that are given to the media and far too often reporters fall for it.
Now That's a Relief!
Last week I groaned when I saw the announcement from the Buffalo Sabres on Twitter. I’m not a Sabres fan (thank God), so I didn’t care about what the team was announcing. What I reacted to was the language they used in the Tweet about their General Manager being “relieved of his duties.”
The Sabres certainly aren’t the first team to use this phase when a GM or coach has been fired and they certainly won’t be the last.
I hate it when teams fire somebody and then say publicly that the person has been “relieved of their duties.” I immediately replied on Twitter that they spelled the word “fired” incorrectly. I always wonder how relieved anyone would be, to be relieved of their duties and classified as a failure at what they were hired to do.
It’s a clear attempt by any organization to make the dismissal seem more palatable because “fired” is such a harsh word. Sometimes it works. The only thing worse than an organization announcing that somebody has been “relieved of their duties” is hearing it described that way by somebody doing sports on TV or on the radio, who repeats the statement on the air.
Far too often, whoever picks up a news release from a team or an organization and writes the story for a news service, uses the same jargon. The “journalist” reading it on the air, then repeats it. That’s a win for the team.
As a former news editor, my simple request to everyone in today’s media is, if you ever seen the term “relieved of their duties” say he or she was fired instead because that’s what happened. Thank you.
By the way, 22 employees of the Buffalo Sabres were “relieved of their duties” last week. That’s a lot of relief!
Going Old School
Maybe I’m just too old school for some of these softer, gentler terms being used by media people these days.
I remember the days when we reported that somebody had died, or had been killed. Now the term is “passed.” For years we used the term “passed away”, but now that seems to have been shortened to “passed.” You no longer die, you pass.
Police officers and soldiers used to get “killed in the line of duty”. Now we’re told they have “fallen.”
If somebody has died, or has been killed I understand what has happened. I’m not totally sure what “passed” or “fallen” means. I don't mean to make death sound trivial in any way. On the contrary, using softer words to describe the loss of a life makes it seem less important.
This May Disturb You
Another trend I’ve seen in the media lately is a warning that the following content may be “Objectionable to some”, or “May be difficult for some readers or viewers”, or “This comes with a warning.”
It’s normally used just before some slightly disturbing footage is shown during a news broadcast, or some gory details about a murder are carried in a report in a newspaper.
Again, I wonder where we’re headed. We're seeing this much more than we used to, even though we live in a time when even kids playing video games are exposed to more violence than these news reports contain.
Please dispense with the warnings and give it to us straight. People don’t turn off their televisions or stop reading a story in a newspaper because it might make them queasy. After all, a popular Netflix show like Lennox Hill shows us parts of real hospital operations these days.
Mind you, maybe there’s a reason for these disclaimers. I remember when I was in radio years ago and another person in the newsroom used a similar disclaimer about a story with some graphic details. He told me that he liked to use the disclaimer and then pause for a couple of seconds to give the impression that if anyone didn’t want to hear the graphic details, they could turn the volume of their radios down. I remember him saying to me “As I paused for those two seconds, I could almost hear everyone listening turning their radios UP” to hear the gory details. That's a veteran move.
Now that this blog is over, I guess I’ve been “relieved of my duties.” Until next week.
Media Training - In-person or Virtually
I submitted two proposals for media training workshops to be done in-person last week. That's the first time since the pandemic started, so maybe things are starting to change? If you're interested, check out the Media Training page on my website.