George Carlin must be turning over in his grave.
Years ago, Carlin lampooned the FCC for the “Seven Dirty Words” in what became a classic comedy bit. Apparently not to be outdone, the CEO of the Tribune Company, Randy Michaels today issued a memo that has certainly made the rounds on the Web – an edict of 119 words he has proclaimed are now banned from the airwaves of the company’s flagship WGN-AM in Chicago.
I have to give Michaels credit for identifying most of the top cliches that clutter too many broadcast newscasts and have helped to disconnect them from audiences. The list alone would have been enough to generate productive conversation in the newsroom. I commend anyone for trying to rid broadcasts of “news speak.” I was taught to write news copy “like people talk” but too often it’s written “like newscasters talk” and that simply violates the fundamentals of good communication. I also believe the use of jargon is one of the reasons why TV (and even radio) newscasts too often sound like parodies of themselves.
But, as a leader of people in a workplace, I find the details of Michaels’ directive to be abhorrent. It shows a lack of respect for the professionals who work difficult hours for modest salaries in his operation. Colleagues could and should mentor each other and help each other communicate more effectively. But they should not policing each other, which will only worsen morale inside a workplace that is probably already decimated but cuts.
There’s no question that news needs to change to meet the needs and expectations of its customers. Cleaning up copy is one place to start. But, old habits die hard – it takes time to evolve. And one thing is for sure – management by memo can’t replace real, positive leadership.