Words matter

“It’s the day after the night before.” What the hell does that mean? Good question. It’s what I asked after I heard that line—the first sentence in the lead story of a local, northern Ontario newscast. My father’s response, “It’s local news; what do you expect?” Well, I expect more.

I’ll admit that my years of news writing and teaching have made me slightly obsessive about the importance of clarity when telling a story. Especially in broadcast writing, when there is so little time to begin with, throw away lines like the one I quoted above are an outrage. However, it seems the more concerned I become with the spoken and written word, the less the rest of the universe seems to care.

The same weekend I watched that newscast, I marked multiple papers in which students “defiantly” liked the book they read for an assignment. I defiantly suggest that “spell check” is definitely no replacement for proof reading.

Aside from the fact you might be marked for your use of grammar, or listeners in a newscast may be distracted by a cryptic line and miss the importance of the story, no one will know what you really mean if you don’t express yourself properly.

Take this magazine cover for example.

Is Rachael Ray a cannibal? Does she enjoy cooking her pets? Lack of punctuation most certainly muddles the message.

In the picture that follows, was it the “woman” or her “girlfriend” who waved at the man dressed like a Snickers bar? There’s no way to tell.

Joking aside, a well-written script or story turns the mundane into the magical; brings home the suffering or jubilation of others; provides context to events that have lasting impact. If you’re working as a journalist you should choose your words carefully, and use them well. If you’re studying to be a journalist you should be practicing your language skills like an artist practicing different strokes with a brush.

Words matter—local newscast or not. And yes, I know that last sentence is grammatically incorrect, but I chose my words carefully and, hopefully, used them well.

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