The jargon of journalism

The Baltimore Sun

Allow me to roll the apple of discord into the assembly. 

For the purposes of discussion, is it to our advantage as journalists to write in a language that we do not share with readers? (If you were not aware that we do this, pray read on.) 

Every trade has its jargon and conventions, and practitioners prove themselves adept by mastering it. Journalism is not an exception. We write with conventions that are peculiar to newspapers, and many of them survive in online journalism. 

For example, though we no longer refer to legislators as solons, we continue to use such headlinese as eye (v.) for consider. This lingo was long comfortably familiar to newspaper readers, but you may have noticed that many of those readers have climbed the golden staircase. You may have noticed further that the rising generations, not having taken up the newspaper habit, find such conventions antiquated and odd. 

Journalists hold fast to other antiquated conventions that do not match standard conversational and written English. Example: The split-verb superstition (the idiotic and non-idiomatic insistence on writing already have seen instead of have already seen) is so ingrained from journalism school on that it doesn't look unnatural, though it is.

And when someone challenges a long-held shibboleth or superstition, as when the Associated Press Stylebook abandons the over/more than distinction, invented by newspapers and observed by no one else, there is an uproar as copy editors whinge and gnash their teeth on Facebook and Twitter, as if a precious badge of professionalism had been snatched form them. 

(If the AP Stylebook should ever wake up and prescribe the use of italics instead of quotation marks, the way everyone else does, imagine the deafening squawks, as of a hecatomb of chickens assembled for slaughter.)

I see colleagues on desks and in journalism departments clinging to outworn conventions and dog-whistle editing, believing that they are upholding the standards of the craft. I want to suggest that you consider for discussion whether we are instead drawing a circle of an ever-narrowing compass. 

Examples and comments welcome.



*One colleague, a notorious wag, suggested that we replace the Obituaries logo with Subscriber Countdown.   



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