The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco

With apologies to Mark Twain, this second day of Spring in the Midsouth feels like one of the colder days of this past winter. Granted I have seen it snow briefly on April 1st here in the Memphis area, but this isn’t Nebraska or any of those other rectangular states in the Midwest where many people move from for warmer climates.
On a different note, I heard something last night on Countdown with Keith Olbermann that I’m not sure I like. Olbermann, who is constantly pushing the envelope in my opinion was reporting on President Bush and the fact Mr. Bush now claims he never linked Saddam to the Al Quaida terrorist attacks. I don’t want to get into the politics of that particular story but as he reported it, Olberman used the term “Who is he ‘F-ing’ kidding?” Olbermann used the phrase twice, never actually using the “F” word but there was no doubt as to what he was talking about. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard salty language and have been known to use it on occasion, but I thought KO crossed the line even using that phrase. He is too well spoken and too smart a guy to have dropped down to that level. Olbermann doesn’t disappoint me very often. He did this time and again, it doesn’t have anything to do with the politics of the situation.
And speaking of words, I saw on Shoptalk’s Water Cooler folks were discussing “usless words and phrases in reporting.” I copied the longest list I saw and am posting them here. Anybody recognize any of them. I do since I was guilty of using some of them. Remember, if it sounds like a cliche, it probably is.

-working the story
-singing sensation
-winter wonderland
-white stuff
-counselors on hand– or anyone ‘on hand’ for that matter!
-lucky to be alive
-speaking out
-mixed bag
-out in full force
-stars were shining in hollywood (also, “stars were out…”)
-hit the ground running
-stumping for votes
-pressing the flesh
-taking to the streets
-search for answers
-more questions than answers
-shots rang out
-under fire
-breathing a sigh of relief
-broken his/her silence
-worst nightmare
-details are sketchy
-mother nature
-on the run
-on the lookout for
-“left out in the cold”
-wheels of justice
-left for dead
-death toll, death toll’s rising
-sneak peak
-what a difference a day makes
-calling for action
-key hurdle
-on edge
-bracing for the worst
-to make matters worse
-state of shock
-makeshift memorial
-race against time
-blazes a trail
-reaping the rewards
-off without a hitch
-center stage
-out of the woodwork
-clean bill of health
-cautious optimism
-beefed up
-counting their blessings
-bargaining table
-software giant
-‘tell-all’ book
-blasting (i.e. criticizing)
-wedding bells are ringing
-brazen robbery
-broad daylight
-turn for the worse
-last-ditch effort
-walks of life
-best and brightest
-heating up
-weighing in
-all eyes are on…

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10 Comments on “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”

  1. Tvnewseditor Says:

    Out of curiosity, why *should* we eliminate all these phrases from newswriting? They may be cliches, but sometimes they accurately convey a situation concisely and accurately.

    Counselors were on hand vs. trained mental well-being professionals were present (or some equally long synonymous phrase)? No contest.

  2. Joe Larkins Says:

    It’s not the counselor as much as “on hand” that poses the cliche. You’re right, sometimes the phrases accurately convey a situation concisely and they are conversational. That’s how TV and Radio folks are supposed to write: for the ear.
    IMHO the problem arises when writers fall back on cliches because they’re easy to dig up and plug in. That’s lazy writing.
    I also think if you look over that list you will find some cliches you hear on broadcasts more frequently than others.
    As for your example, why not just say “Counselors talked/met with the victims/survivors to help them deal with their grief/trauma.” It’s active instead of passive.

  3. Tvnewseditor Says:

    I agree thata ctive writing is better than passive writing, but my guess is that we default to “counselors wer eon hand” rather than “counselors talked to…” because we don’t always know with any certainty that anyone availed themselves of the counselor’s services. We know for sure counselors were present, but we don’t know whether anyone actually stopped by to chat.

    Or maybe cliches are just easier than making a call to find out whether anyone actually stopped by for a little head-shrinking 🙂

  4. Joe Larkins Says:

    I think you are correct on all your points. I know of several writers I’ve worked with who tended not to let facts get in the way of a good story. Just dazzle them with cliches as you walk and talk and point out the obvious. It’s worked before and I’m confident it will work again.

  5. Joan Carr Says:

    Joe, you left a couple of your favorite cliches off your list. I thought “Winter wonderland” and “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” were high on your hit parade.

  6. Joe Larkins Says:

    Actually “winter wonderland” IS listed.
    You can find plenty more by going to the watercooler section of TVSPY.

  7. Doug Johnson Says:

    I thought the most overused phrase was “where’s the hairspray?” But, I guess that’s when newspeople are OFF camera. 😉

  8. Joe Larkins Says:

    That would be when ANCHORS are OFF camera. Apparently times are slow down Hotlanta way right now. Maybe it’s time to create some breaking news Snoop Dougie Doug.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Joe: Funny this site listed these overused expressions. Yesterday morning on 3: “If you’re heading out/As you’re heading out/While you’re heading out/Those heading out/Heading in that direction”
    Got bored and noted that Heading or Headed was used no less than 42 times!
    “Nautical we be at News Channel 3!”

  10. Ben There Says:

    Re: cliches
    How about this: “Counselors will be(are)at the school tomorrow(today). They’ll be ready to help any student who needs to talk about yesterday’s deadly shooting.”

    I’m with you, Joe. Factual, simple, direct, active sentences can still help the viewer “capture” the story, without making the viewer work too hard to do so.

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