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Journalism plagued by cliches

March 27, 2013

I am a journalist. Specifically, this means that while I should be out investigating government waste and corporate fraud, I would much rather sit around and discuss an issue that to me is far more important: Journalism cliches.

The issue came up when Jim Romenesko, a former blogger for the Poynter Institute (motto: proudly leading newspapers over a cliff since 1995) and current man-about-journalism, published an enemies list of cliches that the Washington Post Outlook section avoids like the plague. So to speak.

Journalists have always had a love/hate relationship with cliches, which ebb and flow like the tides, depending on what’s hot at the moment. For example, just try to make your way through any news report this week without stumbling over the word “pushback.”

Which is fine, I suppose, I just wish they would stop using it as a noun: “The president is experiencing severe pushback from the House…” At least it’s not a pushbacklash. That could really be painful.

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Also popular today is the Incredulous Double Really. “Is the administration really going to cut out White House tours because of the deficit? White House tours? Really?!” The other night, ABC’s Diane Sawyer landed a triple IR — really? really!!?? REALLY!!?? — which no news anchor had ever stuck before outside of practice, that I am aware of.

Some of these cliches are old as the hills, of course. Back in the ’90s the Annapolis press corps had a saying: We need to get rid of these cliches; let’s take the carrot and the stick approach.

Through the years, government has been our enabler, and the police in particular. This is why we don’t have cuts and bruises, we have lacerations and contusions, and why no one ever dies from getting hit by a bus, but from “blunt force trauma.” And make that injury “sustained,” please. Sheesh, I still can’t believe that makes it into the papers every now and again.

For the sake of my profession, I do wish we could scrape together our own cliches rather than resorting to the current trend du jour. The 2004 poker/blackjack craze was awful. Nine years later we are still suffering from a fallout of “all-ins” and “double downs” and “tells,” much like radiation continued to saturate Chernobyl a decade after the meltdown.

The political polling season brought us “outlier” and “tracking” and “data-mining” and “trending,” all of which are about as repulsive as politics itself.

Maybe I’m getting old, but I can remember rebukes before they were stinging, tax hikes before they were crippling, the national debt before it was staggering, agreements before they were hammered, deals before they were cobbled, issues before they were hot-button, growth before it was organic, questions before they were open-ended and communities before they were tight-knit.

Which is all well and good, but in the final analysis, what is journalism except for cliches? It’s not like anyone makes any real news anymore. Congress hasn’t acted in three years, so what must our stories become except strands of gossamer holding together factual flecks of nothingness?

Let’s hope that one doesn’t catch on.

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