Saturday, June 21, 2008

Journalism Balance Award Goes To....USATODAY???

One of my fascinations is to watch news reporters (and their editors) work their way out of tricky word-choice traps. I don't mean broad choices, such as whether to say "Downturn" or "Recession" and whether or not to refer to senator Clinton by her first name. I'm talking about the little bits of grammatical connective tissue that convey all the subliminal subtext.

In partisan and sensationalist journalism, such choices are always baldly skewed. When quoting a disliked figure, the individual doesn't "say" or "argue", but, rather, "claims" or "insists". That's a crude, obvious example, but there are far subtler ways in which doubt might be cast and opinion projected, and better publications invest attention in such minutiae. None are as consistently meticulous as
The Economist, which not only lavishes care on its word choices, big and small, but often does so with a sardonic wink toward those who, like me, dote on such things.

But the most precise and ingenious balance I've seen in a long time was struck by, of all things, USATODAY (risk cap-key fatigue, all ye who dare type its name), in its 
coverage of the Olympic torch's passage through Tibet: 

"No disruptions were reported, although the mood overall was far more subdued than at the torch's earlier stops in cities in China proper."
Those final two words earn three separate cheers: 1. for avoiding the easy but one-sided route of saying "cities in the rest of China", 2. for finding a construction that's both true and inoffensive to either side, and  3. for winkingly allowing just a tad of doubt as to whether Tibet is, in fact, China improper...without forcing the hand either way. The balance is precise and seemless, and truth is told.

Photo ©John Hammond

Update: woops, I failed to notice that this report actually came from Associated Press. Kudos to AP reporter Ken Teh!

1 comment:

Big Fella said...

And of course you have cut a check to AP for your use of their content, right Jim?

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