Monday, August 25, 2008

Literacy: try it

I'm one of those snobs who won't watch the local news.

Pretty people reading (or misreading) fourth grade-level copy from a teleprompter, imparting no insight, frequently betraying little familiarity with the stories they're "reporting?" No thanks.

The headlines I can get elsewhere, and analysis interests me more than headlines anyway. The sports? Whatever, I can live without seeing the highlights. The witless banter? Please.

About all I miss out on is the weather forecast. I can always check it online in the morning. If I don't do that and get caught wearing the wrong shirt or jacket, I'll survive.

Lately, though, I've caught my share of the local news, if only inadvertently. Due to my casually following NBC's Olympics telecasts plus my standing TiVo recordation of Conan O'Brien's timeslot, which has marched on despite that show's hiatus, I've seen a few minutes here or there of newscasts on the Chicago NBC affiliate over the past two weeks.

To no surprise, this smattering roundly justified my ongoing disdain for the local news. I'm not even complaining about the content, which would be pretty easy to do given that the evening newscast is a 30-minute break from blanket coverage of the Olympics and its first five or six minutes are a recapitulation of Olympic headlines and highlights.

No, what offends me is the careless butchering of the English language. Within a 24-hour period, I saw the following onscreen graphics:

1. A caption identifying sportscaster Bruce Wolf as a member of the "NBC5 SPOTRS TEAM."

No wonder Bruce, my fellow Northwestern alum, attorney and an old acquaintance of mine, usually looks mildly embarrassed onscreen. His best work is on radio, where his fecund mind and sharp sense of humor get free rein. But for what they're paying him on TV, I suppose I'd lower myself too.

2. A caption reading "COURETSY NBC OLYMPICS" that remained onscreen for a full minute as Olympics highlights rolled. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen the whole time, or for that matter stop cringing. I'm pretty sure I wasn't being told to curtsy at the NBC Olympics.

Do they even need a credit graphic for their own network? Isn't the "courtesy" thing a polite acknowledgment of video from networks owned by someone else? Isn't WMAQ an "O and O" station, i.e. owned and operated by its network? Do they think anyone doesn't know at this point that NBC is the exclusive American broadcaster of the Olympic Games (so much so that ESPN has been showing still photos rather than video)? Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody care?

3. A caption reading "BEARS VS. 49ER'S."

The apostrophe up front I could live with as a noble failure, since the 49ers' team name commemorates the 1849 California gold rush. But before the S? No. That would only be correct as a possessive, perhaps in a headline such as "49ER'S 320 ON SAT VERBAL SURPASSES SCORE OF NBC5 COPYWRITER."

Sadly, we have been conditioned to expect as much on hand-lettered signs in gas stations and downtrodden cafes. But the NBC affiliate in the third-largest city in the United States? That kind of thing might play in the sticks, but this is Capital City.

How hard is it to find someone with a basic mastery of English (or, failing that, a spell-checker) to write your onscreen graphics? They're only the most visible evidence of the intelligence, or lack thereof, of your work product. I take back what I said earlier about fourth grade-level copy. A fourth grader can spell "sports" and "courtesy."

If I can sweat every comma, clause and word choice on a blog that reaches fewer than 100 people on a good day, our local "journalists" with an audience numbering in the six figures should be able to fix their typos before they hit the airwaves. And they wonder why people get their news elsewhere.

Memo to WMAQ-TV: Get it together. You're embarrassing yourselves.


Anonymous said...


Caught a typo in the last paragraph. The last sentence should read as follows:

"Your embarrassing yourselve's."

Herb Johnson
NBC5 Copywriter

Anonymous said...

you will appreciate this then

oh, and perhaps this is a sign that you should stop watching WMAQ and start watching WLS.

-Felicia, bringing viewers to ABC News one person at a time.

Geoff said...

Some spell checkers ignore words written in ALL CAPS. C'mon man, cut 'em some slack, you can't expect a human to notice those hard-to-spot misspellings ;)

Matthew Savard said...

1. none of the newscast's regular viewers can read, so it's not that embarrassing.

2. the person who WRITES the titles is almost certainly not the same person who TYPES them into the onscreen graphics software. what you're really asking for is someone who can both operate the software and enter text exactly as it appears on a sample. good luck with that.

3. bruce wolf's title was NOT a misprint, so hold onto your panties a second. he is in fact a member of the NBC5 (not itself a word, BTW) SPOTR's team. Special Poontang Opportunities Through Radio (like flickr and its ilk, still technically in beta) is a skunk works team dedicated to "spotting" the choicest babes who call into local sports programs, making surreptitious contact with them, and delivering the highly aroused yet unwitting females to reporter Art Norman. the team is highly classified and no one at the network will admit to it. i can't imagine the internal politics that led the onscreen graphics typist to "out" wolf as a SPOTR, but i can say that if the guy wasn't already on a jet to colombia by the time the broadcast aired, he's dead by now.