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Look Out! That Word's Been Banned!

Reuters today reported on some overused and icky terms that are now "banned."

Think "sexting," "unfriended," and any compound including the word "czar."

The Reuters piece is extremely informative -- not for what it says but for how it says it. You see, the headline tells us that several words are "in U.S. banned words list." Then the first paragraph says:

"Fifteen particularly over- or misused words and phrases have been declared 'shovel-ready' to be 'unfriended' by a U.S. university's annual list of terms that deserve to be banned."

Setting aside the all-around weirdness of this sentence, what interests me is its use of the passive "have been declared" to downplay rather important matter of: By whom? Who the hell has "banned" these words? Who thinks they have that authority? And who can get Reuters to treat them as though they have that authority?

Those are the types of questions that journalists like to draw attention away from because they make for much less-interesting articles.

"These words are banned, according to an annual list published by a U.S. university" seems to carry a lot more weight than ,"A U.S. university says that these words are banned."

And only after reading all that do we learn that the self-appointed word-banning czar isn't even one of the nation's best-known or most respected, though Lake Superior State U. now gets my vote for the most media-savvy.

Back when I was a reporter, I used to pull the same trick: Play up the implications, play down their validity. And if I didn't, my editors would do it for me. It's just how news works. And my guess is that readers are getting wise to this brand of sensationalizing.

So, while this brand of spin isn't necessarily so awful, the Reuters story nonetheless offers a "teachable moment" that makes me wonder whether media spin is a "toxic asset" calling for a "news czar" to declare such news stories "shovel-ready."

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From the day of barns, so

From the day of barns, so much has been shovel-ready.

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Don't tell me what I can't say...

Ha. From your reporter days, you seem to be telling us that it takes one to know one.