sábado, 26 de agosto de 2017

Cuando el argot de las redacciones aleja las audiencias

Apareció en The Economist con el título Journalese (el argot de las redacciones).
The many pitfalls of language as used by journalists
EVERY trade is also a tribe, and journalists are no exception. One way that tribes, from teens to programmers, signal membership of the group is through language. Hacks do the same. They write “hed” for headline, “lede” or “intro” for the first sentence in a story, “graf” for “paragraph”, “nut graf” for the core paragraph that gives the story’s main idea. The last line is always the “kicker”. 
But journalists should not be obscure. After all, the whole point of the job is to make things clear to readers. Yet readers are often baffled by the first words they see in a newspaper: headlines. In Britain, a broad range of national newspapers compete on nearly every news-stand. So the tabloids, in particular, put a premium on getting as many short, emotion-grabbing words in the biggest font possible on front page—often at the expense of making sense. A recent headline in the Sun, Britain’s bestselling tabloid, declaring “LOVE ISLE SEX DRUG SHOCK” did not carry any information about who did what to whom; note the lack of a verb. But it did include just about as many jolts to the British id as are possible in five words. Rupert Murdoch, the Sun’s owner, is often considered the father of the modern tabloid, so it is no surprise that his New York tabloid, the Post, copies this style. Possibly the most New York headline ever was “MOB COP SEX FURY”. 
Even where headline-writers are more sober, as in the broadsheets, they try to get as many content-rich words in as they can. Keeping the font big means omitting many of those little function words: “the”, “a”, “and”, prepositions and the like. But these words, despite their small size, have an outsize importance: they convey the who-did-what-to-whom of the content words by providing structure and context. Omitting too many of them gives rise to headlines like “Services For Man Who Refused To Hate Thursday In Atlanta”, raising the question of who exactly does hate Thursday in Atlanta, or “Patrick Stewart Surprises Fan With Life-Threatening Illness”, which would seem a pretty cruel thing for Mr Stewart to do, if read with a certain tilt of the head. 
In the main text, journalists tend to the opposite sin. Instead of being obscure, they make prose feel so drearily familiar that the reader wonders if the paper came out last month—or even last year. A satirical piece in the Washington Post covered the white-nationalist marches in Virginia as though written by a hack foreign correspondent, describing “tribal politics” and “flashpoints” in which the “Trump regime” sided with the “ethnic majority”. Good editors have a list of clichés that they strike from their pages with zeal. 
Only a journalist finds “fresh” a fresh synonym for “new”, so that the reader hears of “fresh clashes” or “fresh elections”, or in one grisly example, “fresh bodies” washing up weeks after a tsunami. Only in the papers do time periods “see” this or that: March saw major demonstrations, April saw fresh clashes, and so on. Overused words like landmark, historic, crisis, watershed, make-or-break and the like give the impression that the writer does not trust the facts themselves to convey any drama. The inexperienced writer may find these clichés and overused words rushing to the fingertips. It is tempting to write like many of the journalists you have read, to show that you have mastered the way it is usually done. 
Whereas this might work on a lazy editor, it is no road to distinction. George Orwell once wrote: “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” Where most writers find themselves talking about people rushing to something “like moths to a flame”, Orwell had them doing so “like bluebottles to a dead cat”. Though known best as a novelist and essayist, he was also a master chronicler of the things he saw as a journalist. 
Orwell’s concern was not just stylistic. It was that hackneyed writing betrays rushed, automatic thinking, rather than slow and critical reflection. Of course, it is hard to be reflective when working to a deadline. Every newspaper, including this one, will feature some verbiage that is the equivalent of the ubiquitous flat-pack Ikea furniture, chosen not because it inspires, but because it is quick to assemble and gets the job done. Yet crafting fresh language, for all the time and effort it takes, is the first step in producing stories that will not only be published, but be read with pleasure. Tribal language may be useful for insiders, but most outsiders just find it annoying.

No hay comentarios: