If you write for a newspaper or website long enough, you will collect an assortment of former editors and bosses who together are more colorful than a rainbow. I had an editor who once kicked my Thermos across the room. Another was smoking a cigarette at his desk at midnight when he asked me what it meant that he couldn’t feel his left arm.
Then there was Tom O’Hara. He was the best of the bunch and the managing editor at The Palm Beach Post when I knew him. He later served as ME at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and at a foreign newspaper before landing a teaching gig at Florida Atlantic University. He is a thoroughly competent, wonderful man and editor, and he used to scare the bejesus out of me. He took journalism seriously in a seriously competitive newspaper environment. He did not suffer fools like me.
He was known as a crusader for clear language. He had a list of words that he didn’t want to see in the newspaper and that former newspaper that was so thoroughly his recently reprinted that list. …
O’Hara noticed a disturbing thing that happened to most reporters: They started writing the way their sources talked. From Barbara Marshall’s story in the Palm Beach Post:
“Our goal is to make complex issues understandable to the people that read the newspaper or a website. The best way to do that is to use common sensible language that we all understand,” O’Hara said recently. “My experience is that over time reporters get sort of seduced by the people that they cover.”
That is how money becomes “funds,” pay turns into “foot the bill” and poor is written as “disadvantaged.”
This is a crusade that is never fully won. I notice it every day in the stories I edit. Won’t you join Tom O’Hara and myself and work to root out the jargon from your journalism? When you do, somewhere an angel gets his wings.