Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Those pesky links to reality

Further to the discussion below about daily journalism and its moorings in reality, a few examples from today's Super Tuesday precedes.

The point of this, again, is that daily journalism is ... well, daily. Our deal with the people who are kind enough to put 50 cents in the newsrack is that a news element will, at some point, answer a basic question or two:
  • Why is this in the paper today?
  • What's different about the world since the last issue (or newscast, Web update, whatever) that warrants your reading this?
  • What in this presentation relates to some event or occurrence in the empirical world out there that you should pay attention to?
If, in our haste to be novel or distinctive or "authoritative," we fail to answer that, we need to back up and start over.
Hence the problem with the illustration at upper right, from The State (The One in The Home of The Mustard-Based Barbecue, if you're wondering). Why are we looking at a photo illustration of somebody ripping a shirt away to reveal an American flag T-shirt? Is Superman ducking into a phone booth and coming out as Captain Democracy? (Did we forget that both Democrats and Republicans in South Carolina have already voted?) Is there some relation between the "photo" and the Stupid Question posed in the hed? What's the connection to the real world, or are The Designers at The State exempt from questions Like That?
Next up, a case of Random Empty Metaphor from the Austin American-Statesman. The problem with this isn't that nothing is happening in the real world today; it's that there's no reason to assume as a matter of settled fact that what's happening is an "endgame." For one thing, in the barest possible rule-of-thumb, it ain't an endgame if queens are still on the board. Let's let GM Paul Keres be a bit more specific:
The middle-game is the richest and apparently the most difficult part of the game, in which the player aims for a decisive superiority or at least an advantageous end-game. And, finally, the ending is that part of the game in which we must convert into a win any advantages won during the opening or the middle-game.
Where does that leave Super Tuesday? The Republicans might be entering an endgame by early tomorrow. One contender might emerge with a decisive advantage and spend the time between now and the convention whittling it down to a win. Or they might not be. And for the Democrats? They might be having an endgame too, but for all we know they're just going to be moving from opening to middle game. All of which leaves open the question of what happens between the conventions and the election. In all: Cute hed, but what does it have to do with anything in the real world that one might find "true"?
Use images that mean something. Use metaphors that connect with reality. Don't grab for something that's been been equally true for a month and won't pass its sell-by date for a week or more.
And a few more admonitions, if you don't mind:
1) Never talk about a candidate's "momentum" unless you can measure it or the candidate is being defenestrated.
2) Don't call a poll result a "statistical tie" unless you can explain what you mean by that. (And if you have to ask, you can't.)
3) Similarly, never say a result is "within the margin of error" unless you're ready to explain what the margin is and does. (If you are, you wouldn't anyway.)
Enjoy your Super Tuesday!
* Keres, P. (1981). Practical chess endings. Great Neck, NY: RHM Press


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I enjoyed the take-down of the "endgame" metaphor.

The only thing (well, the only thing I can think of at this moment) that I hate more is the old "beginning of the end? Or end of the beginning?".

1:20 PM, February 06, 2008  

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