Saturday, August 6, 2016

Your daily firestorm -- or not

By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class
Aaron Peterson. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As communicators, words are our currency. And lately, it feels as if we've been using counterfeit currency to grab readers and viewers.

It's time for news writers and video pundits to change the way they use metaphors borrowed from authentic disasters and conflict. PR copywriters, too, although if we're at all sensitive, we won't describe a new product "exploding" across the marketplace.

I hope.

Last week, one of the presidential candidates flailed in the week's news coverage. Countless newsreaders said he had ignited a "firestorm" by lashing out at a Gold Star family that criticized him. A few days later, another story talked about a controversy "exploding" across the nation's newspapers.

Firestorm? Get serious. A real fire storm is a wild fire of great intensity. It's something to be fought, and firefighters' lives are at risk. Men and women die fighting these blazes. Here's one example:

A firestorm is not a racist political hack arguing with news pundits. It's not Congressional representatives engaging in prolonged finger pointing. Someone merely said something stupid, and got criticized for it. End of story.

Similarly, when a debate becomes heated, newswriters love to say it "exploded."

Real explosions are deadly. Lives -- not egos -- are lost. This 2015 chemical warehouse disaster in China is one example:

My point? When we write or report, words are our currency. Using them incorrectly to add sizzle to copy is more than misleading. It desensitizes us to the threats of genuine disasters.

Firestorms and explosions often kill. Debates and criticisms bruise egos, but the adversaries usually survive.

Skilled news reporters ought to have enough of a vocabulary to choose more accurate descriptions when a candidate or office holder becomes embroiled in a controversy.