Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Words We Choose To Use

A lot of news headlines come into my inbox. Today, I scrolled across one that really bothered me.

"Boy, 2, nanny drown in pool"

Now, the subject, the title, that wasn't what bothered me, although the subject is certainly a sad one. Under each story is 1-2 lines, the first lines of the news article. The lead for this article? "Residents of an affluent Richmond Hill neighbourhood were shaken yesterday after a 2-year-old boy and his nanny downed in a backyard swimming pool."

All I could think was affluent. Why was it necessary to use the word affluent? Did it somehow make the tragedy more poignant, more of a mystery, more important, more scandalous?

Now, that lead was the entire first paragraph. Paragraph #2? York Region police say the boy, his mother and their nanny were visiting the home of a friend on Crescentview Rd. yesterday. The boy's mother and the friend, who several neighbours described as pregnant, were in the front yard when the drowning occurred.

More trivial details. Crescentview Rd. is not important. The fact that the boy's mother's friend was "described as pregnant" by "several neighbours" is so fucking irrelevant, I have to wonder what the hell passes for a real, proper, hard news story anymore.

There's also a few paragraphs devoted to a consoling neighbour encouraging the grieving mother to believe in miracles before the child was pronounced dead.

No mention of the nanny's name, whether she was Canadian or a foreigner, nada. Okay, the police wouldn't release the name, but absolutely nothing? It's like she doesn't matter at all.

Now, I'm in a particularly grumpy mood this morning. Day 2, no water. Hardly any sleep last night. And I stink, because I can't shower. And I might just have to suck it up and go to the city and buy some bottled water so we have a supply for the dogs and cats.

But looking at this story just irritated the hell out of me. What *should* be important here is the tragic news of a nanny and a boy drowning in a swimming pool. What even should be important as filler, if the reporters lacked facts and were told to squeeze a certain word count out of it, is stats on pool deaths, drownings, whether or not this is the first pool drowning of the season, safety tips for how to prevent such backyard tragedies...

Not who's pregnant, not the fact that they drove off in a gold-coloured SUV, not the fact that this is an affluent neighbourhood.

Yet the article is short on facts, long on pulling the emotional heart strings. This wasn't how I was taught to write a hard news story, and it passes off more as a feature on a tragedy and the neighbourhood it occurred in than an article that's actually reporting facts.

I don't know how the incident occurred. Police arrived at noon yesterday, and no statement about the incident or the process of the investigation was available for reporters as of last night? I find that exceptionally hard to believe.

Like I said, I'm grumpy.

But I'm also annoyed that it seems so hard to find news these days that isn't conjecture and is actually reporting facts.

I'm stomping off to find my happy place.

Maybe funnies from Forrest will help.

Only Humans Stutter
Little Johnny is sitting in biology class, when his teacher states the fact that only humans stutter, and no other animal in the world does.
Johnny raises his hand and says. "You're wrong, Miss Finch!"
"Really, would you mind telling us why that is Johnny?"replies the teacher.
"Well, Miss Finch, the other day I was playing with my cat on the porch. The neighbors' Rottweiler came around the corner, and my cat went 'fffff! fffff! fffff!', and before he could say 'Fuck!', the dog ate him!"

Two Brothers
Once upon a time there were two brothers.
One brother was very mischievous, always getting into trouble.
The other brother, however, was very good. He was always kind to animals, helped elderly neighbors, and led an exemplary life.
As time went on, the brothers stayed in touch but were never close.
The evil brother became a heavy drinker and a womanizer.
The other brother was a devoted husband and father and supported many charities.
One day the evil brother died.
Then, after a few years, the good brother passed away.
He went to heaven and was rewarded with a happy afterlife.
One day he went to God and asked, "Where is my brother?
He died before me, but I have not seen him here in heaven."
God replied, "As you know, your brother led an evil life, so he is not spending eternity here in heaven. He has been sent elsewhere."
"I'm sorry to hear that", the good brother replied. "But I do miss him and wish I could see him again."
"You can see him if you wish", God said. "I will give you the power to gaze into hell."
So the power was granted and the good brother gazed into hell. Before long he saw his brother sitting on a bench. In one arm he held a keg of beer, and in the other he cradled a gorgeous young blonde.
The good brother turned to God and said, "I can't believe what I'm seeing. I have found my brother, and he has a keg of beer in one arm and a beautiful woman in the other. Surely, hell cannot be that bad."
God explained. "Things are not always as they seem. The keg has a hole in it.
The blonde doesn't."

New British Invention
A British company is developing computer chips that store music in women's breast implants.
This is a major breakthrough.
Women are always complaining about men staring at their breasts and not listening to them.


Bill, the Wildcat said...

I know it's terrible to laugh at such a thing, but "who several neighbors described as pregnant" is just too much. Can we say "desperate to add drama?" Like that's even necessary? I can just hear the discussion in the news room. "The two-year-old dead... no, not depressing enough. You say the no-name nanny looked pregnant? Great! Let's run with it!" How lame!

And as for those musical breasts... haha! The mental images I'm getting out of that are just great. I mean... do they come with a remote to skip to the next song? That's like every man's ultimate fantasy, isn't it? Breasts and a remote control combined? Okay, okay... I'll behave... but you started it.

angie said...

I think it was the Mom's friend who was "described as pregnant," not the nanny. Whatever, the point is that the media goes for the emotional jugular rather than trying to get the facts straight. Horrible tragedy, but all the extra stuff is just adding insult to injury.

And Sandra, I can only hope that you get your water back ASAP. 'Cause that totally sucks.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Now Bill, about that joke, yeah, I figured the guys would like that! You laugh all you want.

And (of course) I agree with both of you about the "desperate to add drama" thing. It's insane.

Maybe being mildly pissed about having no water in town and having NO NEWS didn't help. Because elsewhere, reporters are too busy exaggerating the facts and peppering them with speculation to report real news.

Insulting to the family, and to everyone. And that affluent thing really irks me - like this matters more, then? I don't get it.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

The 'no water' was the news to me. What happened?

The jokes were funny, although the blonde and beerkeg one, was around when I was a teen!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Is this where I say I'm so young Bonnie, I don't remember the jokes?

We still don't have all the facts on the no water. They switched our line recently, so I assumed it was a snafu, but it turns out now, we've got it back and are under a boil water advisory, so I'm not quite sure what's going on. Something about the water getting contaminated.

DesLily said...

I hope your water situation improves... you don't realize how much you depend on things until they are no longer there.

I want to say that though I am new to your blog, and not a writer, i do enjoy your posts.. that must me I like the way you write! So, though I can't comment on much of what you write, I just want you to know I enjoy reading them!!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks DesLily - offhand comments are always welcome too! I can go for stretches with no talk of the "writing bus" and just rant about general stuff too, but at least I seem to be entertaining!

I'm catching up on my blog surfing a bit today, and my links bar...

Andrea at Lochthyme said...

My husband and I comment on the lack of good news reporting all the time. The reporting sucks. They are just going for the emotional factor they don't care about doing a real news story. Whenever something important happens like Bush has been caught doing something illegal or one of his cronies is in trouble it gets a five second mention and then they are off and running for day after day after day of coverage of the runaway bride. I mean really was the runaway bride actually a news story? NOT! Nope they just want the story that's easy and emotional. I hate the news. Blech!

And Sandra I hope your water situation improves soon!

Bill, the Wildcat said...

Andrea, I gotta agree, and it's part of why I got out of TV news. Was a brutal realization when I faced the fact: tv news is not news; it's entertainment. What's sad is that these local tv stations barely give their newsrooms enough staff for one half hour newscast, then expect hard-hitting reporting for five hours worth of local news. These poor reporters are lucky to just fill their time-hole much less do any legitimate research or fact-checking. All they do anymore is collect soundbites and bridge them together.

JamesO said...

Much of what passes for news these days is just another form of entertainment - we wallow in other people's misery, particularly if they are the mighty fallen low. I've more or less given up watching the TV news, and even that bastion of news services, the BBC Today Program gets more and more tabloid with each passing day.

The sad thing is that the papers, and increasingly the telly and radio, give us 'news lite', with all the information ripped out and replaced with inane social nonsense because that's what we want. Everyone complains about the paparazzi, but they still buy the papers. Purely commercial news organisations can perhaps be forgiven (or at least understood) when they chase popularity over quality, but for the publicly funded BBC to go down that route too is profoundly depressing.

Amra Pajalic said...

I can so relate to this post. There's a story on the news at the moment about a army private who was killed with his own rifle and all these suspicious cover up type activites afterwards. Yet the headline news about the inquest is his dream that he was going to die with his own rifle. Hello-he was in Iraq, on the front line every day, and probably pretty aware of his mortality and therefore dreaming about it!!! And this is news. Disgusting.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bill, Andrea, James, Amra... I don't need to say anything, do I? It's insane.