Monday, March 15, 2010

The 119 words you can't say on radio

Randy Michaels is the CEO of the Tribune Company. Once a major broadcasting and publishing giant (Chicago Tribune, LA Times, etc.), it is now crumbling like a sand castle. And Michaels, who in a similar role with Clear Channel Communication, laid the groundwork for that empire to collapse. So it’s understandable why Tribune would hire a non-newspaper man to oversee their operation in it's most dire time.

Anyway, recently he issued an edict to the news director of WGN radio listing 119 words or phrases WGN newscasters were no longer allowed to say. WGN, Chicago is one of the most respected radio stations in America. I can just see it --
"Mr. Michaels, the editor of the Los Angeles Times is on line one. He can't meet payroll." "Call them back! I'm busy with something far more important! Let me see... "pedestrian". We can't have our newscasters say pedestrian."

The absurdity continues as Michaels instructed WGN staffers to snitch on each other if they hear one of these dastardly words aired. "Dan, I know you hired me and rescued my family from financial ruin but you said "at risk" on the 5:30 cast so I just sent a text to Randy Michaels." Oh, the morale must be sky high.

So here is the complete list. And then to help guide the WGN news staff I've written a couple of examples of how news stories should now sound. What can I say? I'm a giver.

“Flee” meaning “run away”
“Good” or “bad” news
“Laud” meaning “praise”
“Seek” meaning “look for”
“Some” meaning “about”
“Two to one margin” . . . “Two to one” is a ratio, not a margin. A margin is measured in points. It’s not a ratio.
“Yesterday” in a lead sentence
“Youth” meaning “child”
5 a.m. in the morning
After the break
After these commercial messages
All of you
Area residents
As expected
At risk
At this point in time
Auto accident
Bare naked
Behind bars
Behind closed doors
Behind the podium (you mean lecturn) [sic]
Best kept secret
Campaign trail
Clash with police
Close proximity
Complete surprise
Completely destroyed, completely abolished, completely finished or any other completely redundant use
Death toll
Definitely possible
Down in (location)
Down there
Dubbaya when you mean double you
Everybody (when referring to the audience)
Eye Rack or Eye Ran
False pretenses
Fatal death
Fled on foot
Giving 110%
Going forward
Gunman, especially lone gunman
Hunnert when you mean hundred
In a surprise move
In harm’s way
In other news
In the wake of (unless it’s a boating story)
Informed sources say . . .
Killing spree
Lend a helping hand
Lucky to be alive
Medical hospital
Mother of all (anything)
Mute point. (It’s moot point, but don’t say that either)
Near miss
No brainer
Our top story tonight
Out in (location)
Out there
Over in
Perfect storm
Senseless murder
Shots rang out
Shower activity
Sketchy details
Some (meaning about)
Some of you
Sources say . . .
Speaking out
Stay tuned
The fact of the matter
Those of you
Time for a break
To be fair
Torrential rain
Touch base
Under fire
Under siege
Underwent surgery
Undocumented alien
Untimely death
Up in (location)
Up there
Utilize (you mean use)
We’ll be right back
Welcome back
Welcome back everybody
We’ll be back
Went terribly wrong
We’re back
White stuff
World class
You folks

So here are two news stories told CORRECTLY:

In other bummer news today, President John Kennedy was shot and is believed dead but not fatally. He underwent that thing that doctors do when they cut you open and the results were not awesome. The gang-of-one armed homo sapien they think did it – Lee Harvey Oswald – tore ass out of the adjacent book depository as men in blue uniforms with responsibility ran after him, giving it somewhere between 109 and 111%. At the moment we have crude pencil doodle details but the innocent-until-proven-guilty murderer is still in close propinquity. According to reliable no-name people with knowledge, the FBI is lending that appendage with an opposable thumb. Mrs. Kennedy, the mammy of all her children is submerged in the dumps as a result of her husband being untimely whacked. You can drain the lizard for two minutes because I won’t be reading any more news until then.


Reports from the U.N. in Ee-Ran have Dee-termined U-ranium eff-orts Bee-lieved U-seable are ex-traneous. Meanwhile, fighting has become explosive and by that I mean things have actually gone boom. For retreating Ee-ranian soldiers, their boot heels have been a wandering since they are car and truckless. Many people were in harm’s crosshairs. The corpse count continues to climb but one non-military looky-loo who survived a near-hit said he’s lucky to still be pre-deceased. The end to the bloodshed is possibly definite but for now army guys with fruit salad on their uniforms say bombers will maintain their over fire. Coming up after you flog your bishop Marcie will have weekend weather including details on what could be an ideal storm.



Dave Creek said...

A lot of those phrases are pretty bad, and I routinely eliminate them from news copy when I'm editing reporters' stories (I'm a TV news web producer in Louisville, KY).

But that's the level that needs to address this -- you're absolutely right, you'd think the CEO of the Tribune Company would have more important things to worry about.

D. McEwan said...

As silly as some of these are, and while he should be busy with something more important, frankly, the elimination of a lot of those cliche exrpessions would be a good thing.

I'm 120% behind eliminaiting "giving 110%," let alone Randy Jackson's "Agree one bazillion percent." But I suppose that's a mute point.

Unknown said...

It's just plain stupid and censorship on a certain level. On top of that, are you trying to tell me the same types of news organizations that have given us bumbling bimbos ranging from Kent Shockneck and Jerry Dunphy and that asshole KNBC paid a boatload of money to to Tritia Toyota and that idiot Kelly Lange and on and on and on actually give a flying crap about news and how news is presented? Maybe you should acknowledge these news idiots are in need of something approaching electro shock therapy.

I'd like to know what idiot actually thinks TV news is relevant or useful. I've found it to be none of those things-EVER.

When the lead story on a nightly Los Angeles newscast (KNBC) is flying saucers landing at the parking lot in Caesars Palace (I'm not making this up-it really was a KNBC lead story one night) any one with five percent of something resembling a functioning brain knows these assholes are full of shit.

Unknown said...

So the story is about radio news-same difference. News has never been more unprofessionally presented in the past twenty or so years than at any other time since its inception. I wouldn't get my news from radio either for that matter. Radio is really awful these days.

When Ryan Seacrest is presented as morning show "talent" and the Rush Limbaughs of the world easily influence the ignorant with their employers blessings, the last people I turn to if I want real information are broadcast "journalists" (Ha!)

Larry said...

Most of these are cliches and lazy writing, best avoided, but some aren't so bad. Still, the whole list is stupid.

Who are these people saying "5 a.m. in the morning"? I suppose it comes from sentences like "At 5 a.m. in the morning, he used his PIN number at the ATM machine."

How can "some" mean "about"?

Word verification: Knedi. I think we can all remember where we were when he was shot.

Anonymous said...

Half the reporters in the South are out of jobs if they can't use these terms/words whether they are wrong or not.

Unknown said...

If you want your news "personalities" to be relatable and not irritate the crap out of your viewers or listeners the last thing you would want to do is give them directives on minute garbage such as this-it takes away from spontaneity and personality-but this guy sounds like a total jerk anyway who doesn't get that.

It seems to be a huge problem in broadcasting overall these days and a frequent topic on some of Jerry Del Calliano's columns about the industry-executives are so disconnected and concerned more with money than with product. As if the audience is so stupid they'll accept anything you put on the air. And advertisers will buy it. That model isn't working so hot these days. Which is another discussion-and a long one.

Patrick said...

What if a news reporter is doing his/her thing and the clock reads 5a.m.? Do they wait until 5:01 a.m until they reveal the time? Isn't the announcement of the time one of the most repetitive occurences on radio news programs? What am i missing here? This post raises so many questions.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I have to admit he's right about some of these ("very unique" also belongs on the list). Trying to restore good usage is a lost cause anyway. The great Red Smith used to write a column every couple of years patiently explaining that everyone misuses the term "track record." It did no good.

But this is a job for a managing editor. This guy probably sends out morale-killing memos about turning out lights and tidying the break room, too.

Anonymous said...

First off, I'm a semi-regular commenter here, but I'm posting anonymously 'cause...well, I'd rather be anonymous for this one.

I work in a newsroom with a similar "list of banned words" to this one.

There are some that I agree with (find me one person who lives in the northern half of this country who isn't sick of hearing snow called "the white stuff"), but the one that rubs me is "officials".

We have the exact same ban on "officials" in our newsroom. The boss felt that our writers were overusing "officials", and summarily banned the word from all news scripts. In future, we were told, we are to substitute the word "leaders".

Thus, we no longer speak to "city officials", but instead to "city leaders". On election day, the polls are run by (I swear to god) "election leaders". When we talk to the PR person at a local company, they are promoted from a "company official" to a "company leader".

The funny thing is, we were overusing "leaders", so we just substituted a different word. Guess which word we're now overusing? (Oh, and it has the extra added benefit of sounding stupid too!)

Our sports department is, thankfully, exempt from this ban. ("It looked like the Steelers had scored, but the leaders called them for holding.")

Alan Coil said...

y u so mean 2 idiots

Pat Reeder said...

I write for two daily topical radio humor services and the scripts for a news and commentary show heard on hundreds of ABC radio stations, and this is literally the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Most of these phrases are redundancies or oxymorons or contradictions in terms or redundancies. But some are simply words that sometimes must be used to convey a precises meaning. For instance, removing the word "alleged" from a story about someone accused of a crime but not convicted is an invitation to a lawsuit. And what if I have a story about someone whose gun discharged into his toe? Am I not allowed to say that he literally shot himself in the foot?

Howard Hoffman said...

It doesn't matter if he's right or wrong about a lot of these terms...he's dictating the biggest bag of flaming minutiae to an organization that has mostly gotten it right for damn close to a century.

What the hell does it matter of you say "pedestrian"? Does the traffic reporter now have to say "the intersection will be closed to walking people on foot"?

It's insane. Literally.

YEKIMI said...

As I said on another web site, I can come up with 120 words to describe Randy Michaels that DEFINITELY can not be uttered over the airways without hefty fines being incurred from the FCC.

blogward said...

He forgot "arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic"

TomH said...

Good grief, what a nutjob. It's like watching "The Madness of King George"--or the last couple of years of Michael Eisner's reign.

BTW, Ken, HUGE fan. I'm so glad a friend pointed this blog out to me. I look forward to reading more!

Anonymous said...

Well, since WGN is the Cubs flagship station, he had to leave some words alone: lose, losers, choke, chokers, pathetic, frustrated fans, billy goat Bartman, 1908, and hunnert-and-one years since a world series championship.

Bryan L said...

@ Pat Reeder: I had the exact same thought when I saw "alleged" on the list. The attorneys will have a field day with that one.

Brian Phillips said...

I agree with D. McEwan and Dave Creek. Certain things need to be addressed at certain levels of management. Is it true, for example, that "Sister Kate" stayed on the air a bit longer than expected because Brandon Tartikoff's daughter liked it?

There are other phrases and usage that irk me, such as:

"Unless you've been living under a rock..."

"Real-ator", as opposed to "realtor"

"I'd just assume not..." as opposed to "I'd just as soon not..."

The one I cannot understand is "brutal murder". What murder is not brutal? Some are more grisly than others, but is there such a thing as a happy murder?

Here in Metro Atlanta, the NBC TV affiliate needs to hire someone with better grammar skills. The newscasts sound fine but the crawl's spelling and sentence errors are an almost daily occurrence.

This fellow's family probably wrote the local station when Alfred Hitchcock's movie was promoted with the phrase, "'The Birds' is coming!"

willieb said...

Randy Michaels should be looking for ways to save his newspapers and radio stations from total collapse and let his news directors worry about grammar and style. But he can't, because he's just an old radio Program Director who got lucky. Tribune deserves the same crappy fate as Clear Channel for putting this buffoon in charge.

olucy said...

What if a news reporter is doing his/her thing and the clock reads 5a.m.? Do they wait until 5:01 a.m until they reveal the time? Isn't the announcement of the time one of the most repetitive occurences on radio news programs? What am i missing here?

You're missing the redundancy of "a.m." and "in the morning." It's not 5 a.m. in the morning. It's just 5 a.m.

Roger Owen Green said...

I'm not against the elimination of some of the words & phrases (110% in favor of getting rid of some cliches), but pedestrian? Unless he means as a modifier rather than a noun.

But worse is what seems to be Michaels' desire create an atmosophere of distrust among colleagues. Dreadful.

WV: ourped - pedestrian

Mary Stella said...

How sad that anyone has to tell professionals not to say 5 a.m. in the morning, bare naked, fatal death or completely destroyed. I recently heard one of our newscasters use "irregardless".

Dubbaya when you mean double you Can they use it when they mean the former President?

D. McEwan said:
I'm 120% behind eliminaiting "giving 110%," let alone Randy Jackson's "Agree one bazillion percent." But I suppose that's a mute point.

If only Randy Jackson's points were muted!

Unknown said...

OK, I'm really confused. As I I started down the list I though this was another effort to dumb down (banning words like flee, laud and seek). Then reading further, there was evidence of an attempt to eliminate dumbing down (hunnert, 5 am in the morning). But most of the list consists of words and phrases whose banishment makes no sense at all (alleged, pedestrian, perpetrator). I agree that phrases such as "at this point in time" should not be used. This particular phrase emerged during the Watergate hearings. It was a favorite utterance of John Dean. Why use five words when one does the job? Use "now" or "then", depending on whether you are talking about present or past tense. This silly list didn't even capture one of the most glaringly overused phrases in current discourse. That being "at the end of the day". If you watch any show featuring a politician or pundit, I can almost guarantee they will use this phrase. How about "finally", or if you have an aversion to brevity, "in the final analysis" just for variety's sake? But the political class seems addicted to this one particular phrase. But as to the list of 119 words and phrases, it is an unfocussed asinine list whose objective remains unclear. How do they expect people to remember them all? And what happens if you let one of these slip. Does the Trib have a re-education camp where they can send offenders? Good to know that with his business going down the tubes, this CEO is paying attention to what's really important.

A. Buck Short said...

I don't see what any of this has anything to do with spring training? Oh....

In other news...
this is what you end up with when you start by allowing a guy to change his name to Randy Michaels.

rita said...

virgin islands, anyone? :D

AlaskaRay said...

I can understand every one of those banned words or phrases except aftermath. I think he meant AfterMASH. That would make more sense.


Tom K Mason said...

He doesn't know how to save the company or position it for the future, so he's just creating busywork until somebody buys out his contract.

wv: Consubci - my favorite Mexican sushi bar

A_Homer said...

I would like to compare it to what the BBC radio uses as an example, just to get some bearings. Sure it's about lazy newscasters. So? If administration has to step in, there must be some issue that they have to bother about it. I do think the language becomes an issue when it is destroying their "product" - in this case the news broadcasts. Why a CEO has to address, don't know, but it could be for so many reasons - just stepping on toes, showing his new hands-on policy or showing he isn't believing in the previous staff below him who obviously didn't produce such a diligent language oversight, whose newscasts aren't delivering numbers and so on. It's not like CEO's don't interfere in other admin levels? I don't see a real issue in fact, if there is a shake-up implied in general. The language usage IS awful on the news in general (even worse is the banter) so if they introduced that their NEW concept is to return to a kind of meaningful language usage, that would be a selling point and attractor for a kind of audience - if it works of course. And if the news is all about listening to what is being said rather than empty phrases and image sequences - that would be an argument as well.

I am surprised he didn't add to the list "pushing the envelope", which is the bureaucratic transformation of a quite different, limit-breaking concept first uttered by an astronaut ...

Anonymous said...

I think this last, really dumbed down level started kicking in with Bush, down-homisms, and after 9/11, where thanks to politicians Orwellian double-speak, where everyone who ever died because of a bomb or an accident associated in any way with terrorism is a "hero". And that at the same time they manufactured "heros" like Jessica Lynch, with her medal... The pride of all-day military on the tv briefing on war and government talking-heads briefing on the latest b.s. in government, is the glut of Orwellian double-speak that came with it. Ever hear a military briefing explain something accurately? Or extra-wordy bureaucratic nonsense. The newscasters just soaked that up and tried to sound extra-official on the one hand, "specialists" repeating empty terms, or down-homists, "gonna" "youbetcha" ad infinitum. A government spokesperson since realizing some day they may (likely) be on trial is even more careful to say empty vague nonsense and that usually requires all kinds of adjectives. It's so much double-speak emptiness. Look at the news broadcasts you can find on youtube for example, from the 60s, like Cronkite. It will be a different language, slower because of less images - and rarely is the word hero appearing despite their is the Vietnam War and soldiers die. Growing up all through the 60s and 70s I hardly recall the term "hero" being used except really when something amazing exemplified it.

I think the CEO is just but the idea is right on target -- there would be a great audience for a return to really utilizing language for something more than catering to military culture or political culture.

Mike Bell said...

Once a Program Director, always a Program Director.

"Dude! The CEO just hot-lined me!"

Brian Scully said...

I would add "Elsewhere" to his list. I only hear that word on news broadcasts. I don't want to hear the word Elsewhere unless the word Saint is in front of it.

emily said...

Shouldn't Randy be CEOing instead of PDing?

The Peter Principal in action -- he's "managed" Jacor, Clear Channel and now Tribune into the Loo.

Mac said...

Some of these phrases are nonsensical, but that's how people talk. Eliminating slang and oxmoronic language was used by the BBC back in the days of 'received pronounciation.' Consequently their presenters were word-perfect and sounded like no-one from planet earth.
It sounds like this guy is complaining about the deckchair arrangement on the Titanic, perhaps hoping to divert attention from all the seawater that's appearing on deck.

Mac said...

That should be 'oxymoronic' as opposed to 'oxmoronic', which is not an uneducated bullock, just me being moronic.

Claire Chanel said...

I once had to deal with Randy Michaels in the radio business. He's a complete moron, and a VERY good reason why the radio business is in the toilet. I think the only reason he has continued to get employment is because the idiots above him are more ignorant than he is.

Unknown said...

Great post, but credit should be given to the person who uncovered the list in the first place, the Dean of Chicago Media Reporters, Robert Feder at Quite the string of posts and comments about this over there.

Anonymous said...

There was a similar list circulating Clear Channel after 911 of songs that should not be played like "Leaving on a Jet Plane" "I'm falling" which are obvious, but the list was HUGE. Songs like Phil Collins' "Coming in the Air at Night" fully captured the angst of the moment, yet were banned. It's just one man's taste.

By the way, put the phrase "Homocide Bomber" on the stupid list while you're splitting hairs.

Cap'n Bob said...

I think many of those phrases ought to be banned from the air. Maybe that will have the trickle down effect of people eliminating those phrases from their speech. News people ought to know better than to say things like 5 a.m. in the morning, and if they don't someone has to correct them.
By the way, THE BIRDS is coming is correct.

Patrick said...

Well, apparently I read over the phrases too fast, 'cause I missed so many of the redundancies, and idiotic phrases. In retrospect, I think the whole endeavor to be completely silly. Especially when you consider that all of the professionals involved get paid enough that they shouldn't have to be checked on this silliness. But my opinion doesn't hold much weight at this point - my reading comprehension is at a third grade level.

SouthernGuy said...

Michaels probably can't grab his butt with both hands, but (ahem) somebody needed to get these boneheads' attention. This has nothing to do with censorship; everything to do with proper grammar. I'm a retired newspaper editor who can't get it out of his blood. As an earlier poster noted, "very unique" -- or any degree of "unique" -- should also be banned.

Anonymous said...

these phrases are what bullshit news are made of. the saddest part is that news reporters probably told themselves for the past 15 years "the internet? I'm a PROFESSIONAL, my job is safe!". well, look at the first post on this thread, news websites have editors now. probably editors that got fired from newspapers. and they're doing a good job apparently. I can't wait for radio and print (and tv) to die.