ack in my days as a newspaper editor, one of the ongoing battles was keeping reporters from adopting the jargon used by the people they were covering.
In other words, journalists should write for the reader, not the people they are writing about.
We are losing the fight in the media, especially with those talking heads on TV who love to turn news into “breaking news.” Our craft is slowly being hijacked by lazy craftsmen who repeat rather than reword.
For example, take the phrase “active shooter.” What’s an “inactive shooter?” Doesn’t “gunman” say it better?
Lingo such as “active shooter” is a staple of law enforcement that is eagerly copied by breathless on-air types, and has seemingly become part of our national vocabulary.
Cops can communicate anyway theywish. But that doesn’t mean reporters have to use cop-speak.
“Active shooter” was coined by some bureaucrat in the Department of Homeland Security. The official definition, among other things, on the DHS website states that “in most cases, shooters use firearms.” Huh?
Supposedly, that means people causing havoc with knives or bombs, such as the two terrorists at the Boston Marathon, can officially be “shooters.”
The overuse of the term by reporters has even allowed the creation of a new industry: A company is Dallas sells “active shooter” insurance, which includes burial expenses. The firm’s motto might well be “Keep Your Head Down; We’ve Got You Covered.”
Police spokesmen use all kinds of words and phrases that shouldn’t be routinely repeated by media types. Among them: • “Male” or “female.” Cops often say they are seeking a male or a female. Why not a “man” or “woman?”
• “Male juvenile” or “female juvenile.” Actually, “boy” or “girl” uses fewer key strokes and the reader or listener will get the same message. Save “juvenile” for when a minor has been arrested and charged as such.
• “Party” or “parties,” such as in “party of interest.” A party of interest should be a social event with chips and dip.
• “Suspect,” “alleged” or “allegedly.” These are the most overused and misused words in the media. Both print and electronic newshounds and editors are equally guilty. Lawyers love “suspect,” but “suspects” do not hold up banks or kill people. Robbers and murderers do that.
If perpetrators (now there I go) are arrested, only then do they become suspects in the crime. It is unlikely police really have time to search for unidentified suspects. They are too busy seeking real culprits.
• “Police situation” or “active situation.” When the talking heads learn that more than two cops have responded to the same location at the same time, they echo a police term and call it a “situation.” Obviously they don’t know what is going on so why not say so?
• “Police activity.” Same as above. Perhaps the “activity” is the department’s annual picnic or Christmas party — a real “party,” that is.
• “Incident.” Even a triple murder can be an “incident” in copspeak. But that is not incidental.
Next time someone on TV says “police are looking for an alleged suspect,” change channels. And throw an active party for your adult male and female
friends. Dick Hilker (dhilker529@ aol.com) is a retired Denver suburban newspaper editor.