Language counts

Kudos to Jim Meek who has complained, in an article in today’s CH, about shoddy journalism. The trigger for his small but valuable protest was the headline ” Premier to drivers: ‘Take the bus‘”, which appeared to quote Rodney MacDonald. Now we aren’t a big fan of the very PC preemie but Jim is very right to say that if words are to mean anything, and if reporters are to have any respect, they shouldn’t be making up words to put into peoples mouths in print. Yes, as Jim very rightly points out, language counts. Small changes can give a completely different colour to a statement.

Here’s what he said: “I think the most important thing we as a government can do, and all Nova Scotians can do, is to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles, to take up the opportunity for transit.”

Jim cuts the CH a whole lot of slack by suggesting that the “witty’ reporter was putting a “stilted” phrase into simple language, and that it was odd that Rodney should get upset that the reporter’s words echoed his in advising people to use public transport. But Jim does say what we all know – there is a big difference in tone between between something akin to “please choose public transit” and “just take the bus” – rather like the difference between “can’t we give them some cake?” and “Let them eat cake”

“Take up the opportunity for transit” is a suggestion.

“Take the bus” is a command.

In short, the translation from premier-speak to headline-copy was accurate, but nuance and meaning were lost.

We would go futher and say it was not only lost it was distorted.

I descend into this rare display of critical self-examination for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, if journalists don’t take a hard look at themselves, who will?

More important, our growing obsession with simplifying complex issues threatens to dumb us down to death.

Here I risk descending again – this time, into high earnestness.

For the issues that underlie this silly little tiff over a headline are more important than the egos on either side.

You are so right Jim and self examination like this should happen more often. Reporters have lost their sense of balance and when they put words into people’s mouths all they do is expose their bias.


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