Monday, December 21, 2009

Mantras and “The Gray Lady”

Decades ago, most reporters at The New York Times (nicknamed “The Gray Lady”) wrote in clear, often elevated English. By contrast, most of the people they quoted spoke in mantras.*

Today, that contrast is disappearing. Times reporters usually write in mantras; they have lowered themselves to the level of the dullards they interview. Apparently The Gray Lady went slumming and never came back.

Examples of reporters’ use of mantras

A November 7, 2009 article contains many typical examples of reporters’ use of mantras. (Boldface added.)

“Marilyn Wann is an author and weight diversity [vague mantra left undefined throughout the article] speaker in Northern California…”

Heavier [euphemistic mantra] Americans are pushing back [maniacally popular mantra for resisting] now with newfound vigor…”

“Other less-scientific arguments have also gained traction [vague mantra for “obtained a hearing” or “caught on” or “became popular” or something else?] …”

“…that weight diversity is a good thing and that size discrimination [vague mantra left unclarified throughout the article] is as offensive as any other kind.”

“Weight is an incendiary issue [a confusing mantra; if the reporter wants to imply that some people are using their body mass or their words to (metaphorically?) burn things or people, why won’t she identify who’s burning what or whom – and how and why?]…

The Takeaway: If you are more than 50 years old, you probably remember when young writers could pick up good writing habits by emulating the prose in The New York Times. Today, they would probably pick up more bad habits than good. Don’t emulate Times reporters. Emulate good writers, such as the writers in my “List of Writers to Absorb.” If you would like a copy of the list, please email me at the address shown in my profile. I will respond via email.

*Back then, we usually called them bromides or clichés.

No comments:

Post a Comment