How to report the news like a Dream Team

Been meaning to post this funny and dead-ass skewering of TV news style, with much thanks to Kathlyn for the tip.

The BBC’s Charlie Brooker, essentially a limey Jon Stewart, on how to report the news.

Not that print journalism doesn’t have its own well-worn and weary styles lazy reporters fall back on all the time. How many times have you read a celebrity profile that opens up with something like: “Mark Linn-Baker sat across from me munching pensively on his cracked pepper mescalin salad, as he chewed over the cosmic fundamentalism of a digital world where cousins can longer truly be strangers. “You’d be surprised how much the invention of and Facebook would have shattered the original TGIF lineup,” Linn-Baker said while ripping off a heel of 15-grain ciabatta loaf and dipping it into the tub of triple-pressed olive oil carried over to him by an obsequious publicist wearing a leather thong.

Basically, according to most magazine profiles, all celebrities like salads and eating in restaurants, and, hey! so do the readers and lots of people so this will totally make them relatable. Or how many times have you seen a news story open up with “Call it a _______”? As in, “Call it a union of historical proportions,” or “Call it a ‘mater with a message,” both very real ledes from the same reporter at the same paper, and there’s more examples, which I wouldn’t list here save for the fact that they’re so easy to find online, including” Call it a case of bad vibrations,” and “Call it a tale of two bottles.”

AJR keeps track of such things in its Cliche Corner, which is explained in this fun piece by former UMD J school dean and fantastic person Reese Cleghorn (RIP!) from 11 years ago, including this graf:

Looking weary and haggard, an American icon who had lost his moral compass was finally facing his defining moment in court that day. The Dream Team had hit the ground running, and now it was cautiously optimistic that it had come from ground zero to capture the hearts and minds of the jurors, despite the chilling effects of testimony that had pushed the envelope in trying to ratchet up a weak case.

We uses cliches as humans to save time, to encapsulate general truths with minimal language, to avoid creativity. We use cliches as journalists because we’re lazy, because we know the message will get across and avoiding creativity is one way of ensuring you don’t scare off your audience.

It’s frustrating to see these things pop up all the time, to know that some people don’t care how often they overuse a phrase or style, worse yet to think that they may not even ever notice it and are operating completely in a subconscious rut, maybe even worse still to think the rote nature of much reporting requires the use and over-use of certain styles that can at least be relied on to deliver a message in a recognizable format.

But to the extent that news (at least on tevee) is also show bidness, Brooker nails the packaging methods on which all the Anderson Coopers of the world rely, including my favorite TV news trick: interviewing the random person tangentially related to the issue who has something to say about it on camera (often unnamed) after they were pulled out of a crowd by the camera crew.

Call it journalism.

3 responses to “How to report the news like a Dream Team

  1. I remember those days fondly. Opening the Bluffton Today, looking for the inevitable cliche — usually in the lede of a story.

    Not until today, however, was I able to grasp the totality of abuse that Ingersoll inflicted on journalism with her overuse of the “call it” lede. Funny thing is, I don’t see one instance in those you’ve compiled in which the “call it” lede even makes tangential sense.

    She’s an idiot.

    Of course, we all use cliches, worn-out phrases and shallow analogies from time to time. And your description of why explains it with brevity.

    But Bluffton Today, that bastion of journalistic excellence, held a stable of reporters who knew no better, who had no skills to communicate any better. Simply put, the staff over there was overmatched — not by its competition, but by journalism itself.

  2. aaand the day after i publish this, the New York Times runs this story with the lede: “Call it geek diplomacy,” with a picture of Ashton Kutcher. I guess it isn’t just one reporter after all

  3. This video never gets old 🙂 Glad you enjoyed.

    And, excellent use of the word “bidness”.

    I have to say, though, that as I learn a bit of video editing and work on short video stories… It’s hard to avoid cliches both visual and with words given the time limitations.

    I hate it, but I get it. There’s only so many kinds of “B roll” shots (esp. for a beginner).

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