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IN A SURPRISE MOVE: A Dialogue in Journalese

by Paula LaRocque on June 1st, 2011

So Lois Lane and reporter Brown from The Sun meet on the street. Does Lois Lane say: “In the wake of spiraling confusion spawned by an unprecedented rise amid . . .”?  And does Brown from The Sun respond: “Following cautiously optimistic reports, anonymous sources launched an unprovoked attack on . . .”?  No, they don’t.  Journalists don’t speak as they write—which is too often in hackneyed, warmed-over media clichés. The reason they don’t speak as they write is that they know if they did, nobody could stand it—or them.  But if they did speak as they wrote, here’s how it would sound:

Hack:  Hi, Frack. What’s ongoing at your journalistic facility?

Frack:  Amid a burgeoning crisis spawned when the editor disliked a story I wrote, he hurled a litany, even a laundry list, of verbal insults at me and launched an unprovoked attack on my copy editor, 45. That triggered a firestorm of criticism from staff members, who weighed in on the issue and unleashed a new round of difficulty.

Hack:  Sounds like sort of an unprecedented development.  Such a heated exchange can quickly escalate into a defining moment, or even a critical mass.

Frack:  You bet.  In the wake of the controversy, my boss suggested I could level the playing field by an immediate withdrawal—by resigning!

Hack:  Whoa, the R word!  Worst-case scenario!  Even a bizarre twist!

Frack:  I hotly contested the suggestion and mounted a staunch defense.  But the idea was hailed by high-ranking sources who said it might send a very clear signal to the rest of the staff.  I don’t know who the architect of that idea was.

Hack:  Send a clear signal, eh?  More like a chilling effect.  But, at the end of the day, this must be a daunting challenge.

Frack:  We’re in the midst of negotiations, and I hope to hammer out an agreement on key provisions.  And their hard-line stance does seem to be softening.  So the bottom line may be that there’s a thin line between a soft and a hard line.

Hack:  But things may yet turn in your favor—if not in a sea change, maybe in a ground swell.  Instead of a staggering defeat, it could be a stunning victory!

Frack:  Or I could get shipped off to the oil-rich Middle East.

Hack:  Or to delegate-rich New York.

Both:  Yuk, yuk.

Hack:  Does this storm of controversy decimate your hopes for a promotion?

Frack:  I think that hope has suffered a sudden downturn.  Or a steep decline.  Or a sharp decrease. Maybe even a free fall. Let’s just say I’m hopefully optimistic.

Hack:  So, going forward, the outcome is unclear.  Or it remains to be seen.


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