Tuned In: Pittsburgh viewers are sick of TV newsspeak

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Check it out: We can tell you Pittsburgh viewers are sick of TV newsspeak. You're not gonna believe what words and phrases they hate. Details just ahead. Absolutely.

Five of the most frequently cited TV news cliche words or phrases were used in the previous paragraph, but those were not the only examples.

A few weeks ago, after a media executive in Chicago banned certain words from broadcasts, I asked viewers for their least favorite, most overused TV news phrases. Viewers were not shy in making their frustrations known.

"It's not clear" is code for "we just don't know" or "we didn't bother to find out," one viewer posted to a post-gazette forum, adding, "If you don't know, just say it."

Erika, 64, dislikes when newscasts misuse the language, including "less" for "fewer" and "impact" as a verb ("Four families were impacted by the fire ..."). Jon and Mary don't like "gone missing," "shots rang out" or "we'll tell you what went down."

A former TV producer wrote in to say he counted one reporter saying "We can tell you" five times in a single report. Other viewers were annoyed by some verbal tics ("the mayor, he announced ...," "Michelle Obama, she's launched a new effort ..."), the use of "exclusive" (and, of course, "breaking news") and talk of "daylight-savings time" when it should be daylight-saving time.

An anonymous letter was sent by someone who works "with TV people professionally," complaining about "Take a look at this" and "Get this" as too conversational.

"First of all, I'm already watching the TV, so there's no need to tell me to look at something," the viewer writes. "And 'get this' sounds like a bunch of teenagers at the mall. Those are the worst offenders to me and rank right up there with 'Check it out.' "

TV viewers actually sent in a pretty succinct list of complaints with the most overused terms getting multiple nominations. I took those phrases to local news directors for their response. (Soon-to-exit KDKA news director Coleen Marren did not return a call.) Some of the phrases are universally used and others are more identifiable with a particular station.

'We can tell you ...'

"It's just a waste of time," acknowledged WPXI news director Mike Goldrick. "I agree with viewers."

"If you're going to tell me, just tell me," said WTAE news director Alex Bongiorno. "I'm with viewers on that. Tell me the information. Don't tell me you're going to tell me."

"You're not gonna believe .../You might be surprised by ..."

"We're anticipating we're going to tell you something that calls our credibility into question," Mr. Goldrick said. "I don't know we do that all that often. That's not necessarily our style. I'm not a big fan of that phrase."

Ms. Bongiorno said it's incumbent on news professionals not to tell viewers how they should feel or what their emotional reaction to a story should be.

"Maybe what surprises you doesn't surprise them," she said.

'Check it out'

"We understand viewers are sometimes not watching as closely as we are. They have the news on in the background and are multitasking, especially in the morning, so we will use phrases to try to draw your attention to the screen," Mr. Goldrick said. "If folks don't like it, I can understand, but that's the concept behind it, 'Take a look at this.' "

This phrase is probably heard most frequently on Channel 4.

"That one doesn't really bother me," WTAE's Ms. Bongiorno said. "It's conversational. Maybe it depends how it's used. In the morning people are not paying attention to the TV, they're just listening. The moniker 'check it out' is something to pull people in. I suppose there are ways it can be used that are too informal, but it just depends."

'Details just ahead'

"Of course they are. We're supposed to have details," said Mr. Goldrick, who arrived at WPXI as news director in December. "It's a tease. We're teasing you with the most obvious information. A lot of that stuff is easy or it's [done] by rote. You fall back into those old traps, but it's certainly not anything we encourage."

He said he didn't even like calling such promos of upcoming stories teases ("nobody likes to be teased"), and it's something he plans to work on with the Channel 11 staff in the coming months.

"We're not going to try to do something obvious like 'We've got details.' We're going to try to make a promise of some coverage that has some significance," Mr. Goldrick said. "It should be something we can own, 'Here's what we did and why you need to watch our version of it.' But the reality is sometimes those are the last things written, and when you're going on the air in five minutes, you go back to the old standards. But by fall, I don't think you'll hear that again."

Ms. Bongiorno was unequivocal: "I hate that one. 'Details' sounds really boring. ... I'm not a fan."

'It's not clear if ...'

Mr. Goldrick said WPXI is making a concerted effort to bring viewers more into the newsgathering process but his preference would be to be more direct: "Say, here's what we don't know and we're working on it and we'll let you know."

'Impact' as a verb

"Hate it," Ms. Bongiorno said. "Anytime you're not talking how normal people talk, that's not good."

'Absolutely'

This one seems like another verbal tic particular to an individual anchor.

"I haven't seen it written into the script," Ms. Bongiorno said. "It may be something that's ad-libbed. Those are fallback words, which you're going to have when you're conversationally speaking."

Why we watch

A few weeks ago I also asked readers why they tune in to the local newscasts they watch. The responses were interesting and varied, although some devolved into pet peeves. There's still time to send me an e-mail with observations on why you watch one station over another, whether your loyalties have changed and what it is you seek when you watch local TV news.

Keep or cancel?

The Keep or Cancel? poll continues online at post-gazette.com/tv. So far, no one has stuffed the ballot box, and about 80 percent of the ballots were cast by residents of Western Pennsylvania. Vote today!

Channel surfing

ABC's new Pittsburgh-set sitcom, "Romantically Challenged," will air at 9:30 p.m. Mondays beginning April 12 on WTAE. ... ABC has renewed "Castle" for the 2010-11 TV season. ... The NBC premiere of "Friday Night Lights" has been pushed back one week to May 7. ... MTV has canceled "The Hills." Its final season begins airing April 27. ... The new Nat Geo Wild channel is carried on Comcast Channel 118 or Channel 165, not Channel 18 as mentioned in a TV Week cover story. ... Bridgeville resident Christina DeWoehrel will compete on "The Price Is Right" (11 a.m. weekdays, KDKA) today. ... WTAE weather reports are now heard on five Clear Channel-owned radio stations: WDVE-FM (102.5), WWSW-FM (94.5), WXDX-FM (105.9), WPGB-FM (104.7) and WBGG-AM (970).

Tuned In online

In today's online TV Q&A, there are responses to questions about "24," "Southland" and the absence of "Weekend Today" on WPXI. Tuned In Journal includes posts on casting for "Glee," "Big Brother" and HGTV and the death of Fox Reality Channel. Read online TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's Tuned In podcast includes conversation about "V," "Lost" and "Caprica." Listen or subscribe at post-gazette.com/podcast.

Absolutely


TV editor Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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