When we TV news anchors look into the camera to bring you the news, we haven’t memorized anything. We’re reading it off the TelePrompTer, a nifty device that allows us to “look you in the eye,” and read at the same time.
Over the years, I have developed a habit. I do not read the script from the prompter word for word. Even if I’ve written it myself, I usually change it, live on the air. I’ve convinced myself that I can make the copy better by ad-libbing, and making it more conversational. Sometimes, I succeed. But a few days ago, I said something so stupid that I regretted it the moment it left my lips. The script said, “We’ll have more information when it becomes available,” but I wanted to say “We’ll bring you more information when we get it.” Instead, I jumbled them together, and blurted out, “We’ll have more information when we get it.” Say that out loud. I don’t think I’ll win an Emmy award for that one.
I try to avoid clichés, because they turn up on the news too often. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve ended a story by saying, “The investigation is continuing,” I’d have some serious cash. I mean, that should be obvious. We all know that cops and firefighters aren’t going to leave the scene and say, “You know what, Bill? I’m stumped on this one. Let’s just forget about it and go to Wendy’s.”
Sometimes we trivialize death. In the wake of a storm in Iowa, we’ll say, “Damage was extensive, but there was only one death.” You know, to that person’s family, “one death” is a big deal. That person woke up this morning, and was having a fine day until the storm came, right?
When we say, “Smith and Jones spent the day on the campaign trail,” where exactly is that trail? Are there markings on the trees?
If we say, “canine dogs,” should we also say, “human people?”
I’m reluctant to say someone “lost his battle with cancer.” It is said with good intentions, but I’ve known many people who fought debilitating diseases. In most of those cases, the odds of a long-term recovery were slim. But once they passed away, I didn’t feel they “lost.” I thought they displayed courage and grace in their final weeks. They’ll always be winners to me.
Have you ever us talk about a structure that was “completely destroyed” by fire? Can something be destroyed just a little bit? It’s either destroyed, or it isn’t.
We’ve told you grim details about people who were “fatally killed” or “electrocuted to death.” Some were in a “terrible accident,” as opposed to a “wonderful” accident, I guess. We describe a “senseless” crime so you’ll know it wasn’t a meaningful one.
When we say “Police need your help to solve this crime,” I’m always afraid someone is going to gather up the wife and kids, load the ammo, and head down to the police station. “We heard y’all needed us,” they’ll say.
We tell you that an injured person was taken to a “local” hospital. Promise me this: if you ever see me in need of immediate medical attention, please take me to a local hospital. If you drive me out to Utah, I may not make it.
How about “She’s lucky to be alive?” Having survived rush hour traffic in Atlanta, I think we’re all lucky to be alive.
Sometimes we use a lot of words when only two will do. Doesn’t “totally engulfed in flames” mean the same thing as “on fire?”
The weather forecasters slip up occasionally too. From the Department of Redundancy Department, they’ll say, “Currently right now it is 91 degrees outside.” Was anyone wondering about the temperature inside? And instead of saying, “Old Man Winter is bringing on the white stuff,” can’t they just say that it’s going to snow?
I try to avoid “literally.” I’ve heard reporters say, “Police are literally combing this neighborhood for clues.” That must be one big comb.
One newscaster said, “Thanks to a fire, a local business was destroyed.” So he was thanking the fire?
Our own buzzwords have become clichés. Remember when “Breaking News” meant something huge had just happened? Like a major earthquake somewhere, or perhaps an explosion. Now, the cable news channels, yapping for attention like puppies at feeding time, will trumpet their “Breaking News” banner to inform us that a Kardashian got a parking ticket.
So that’s the very latest, and soon we’ll have a full report. (Ever seen anyone give a half report?) At the end of the day, here’s the bottom line: Only time will tell. But this much we know: We will have more information when we get it. Back to you.
David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor. His book, "Volunteer Bama Dawg" is available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Rd., Chattanooga, TN 37405 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.