Thursday, May 1, 2014

Plain Style Problems in the News Surrounding the Boston Bombings

Plain style is useful in many situations, including writing and airing the news. With information such as the daily news, you need to reach a large audience. When trying to reach a large audience, it is best to address the common man (or woman) and write in plain style, so as not to exclude anyone from understanding something as simple and important as the news. However, some aspects of the plain style can go haywire under stress in the news. A clear example of this is with the case of the Boston Bombings that occurred April 2013. In the event of these sudden and frightening bombings, the media, writing in plain style, made many errors. The New York Post falsely identified two men as the “Bag Men” a.k.a bombers on the cover of their paper.  There were false statements issues about a suspect being arrested, and several other “facts” that we later learned were lies. One lie the media told us surrounding the hours after the Boston Bombings is a prime example of the losses that occur when using the plain style in news writing. Credibility and trustworthiness are the two main losses of using the plain style in this particular
            There is noteworthy background context surrounding this specific plain style news piece. CNN newsperson, John King, released a statement verbally and in writing, that the suspect of the bombings had been identified as a “dark skinned male.” Once this news was released, the plain style immediately took a hit. This newsperson made a clear statement that said, “suspect is ‘a dark-skinned male’, and I’m gonna stop there because it’s obviously very sensitive.” By noting what he said is sensitive, King is acknowledging that the information he released is unethical. So this reporter already had to make a tough decision to release controversial information that identified a person solely based on race. Not only did this news release backfire on the reporter because of the controversy, but it also backfired because the information he reported was actually not true. News reporters are under a lot of pressure to pass along information in breaking news situations. So I do understand and forgive the mistake that was made; however, I think news reporters should be a little more careful and conscientious in reviewing the news before they send it out.
In the plain style newswriting, you almost always hear positive, certain, and factual statements. News likes to report fact over opinion, so it’s very rare to hear a news reporter report in a passive voice. With so many news stations available to choose from, reporters also like to claim the information they report as their own. This leads to news stations trying to report news quicker than other stations, which leads to false news. News writing is also written in shorter, less complex sentences that include minimal jargon. These are all characteristics of plain style writing and communicating that are problematic in this situation with the Boston Bombings news report.
The Official Style on the other hand could improve this writing. In the Official Style, writing is very passive, and is written so authors of the writing can hide behind it if someone questions or critiques what they have written. If news reporters were to use longer, complex sentences in reporting news, they could also be in the clear if news reports are false, or even if they take on other negative qualities, such as being unethical. Ironically, without claiming authorship of writing in the official style, authors are deemed credible! So by reporting definite facts in plain style, news writers are losing credibility, and when their factual report ends up being false, they then lose trustworthiness as well. For example, someone writing in the official style could say, “It was heard that is it is possible that the suspect is a dark skinned male.” Although, this specific statement might be unethical, writing it in the official style could still help the credibility of the news reporter. This way if information ends up false you can blame it on someone else (it was “heard” from someone else), and if the news report takes off, you can gain credit.

News reporting altogether in the Official Style might not be ideal, because if news reporters started using jargon and complex sentences, they would lose a large proportion of the public as viewers. However, I think taking the passive voice from the Official Style and implementing it into news writing would be an improvement to address the flaws of plain style in this context. I also recognize that it might seem strange to viewers to hear the news reported in a passive way, but I think viewers would get used to it after awhile, and it could only improve plain style news writing as a whole.

By: Cody F.

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