Tuesday, June 03, 2008

New copydesk game: Fridge magnets

Hey, editors! Here's a game we can all play with campaign coverage (you can try it on staff copy if you want, but I'd start with the wires and work up from there).

First, pretend all the adjectives in political copy are printed on refrigerator magnets. Then, pull some random adjectives off one refrigerator and stick them on another! Here's an example from the National Press Club to get started with:

Talking about his family roots and how he's distantly related to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the vice president noted that he had Cheneys on both sides of his family.

“And we don't even live in West Virginia,” Cheney quipped.

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Quipped! Anyway, let's gather up a handful of adjective magnets and see how they fit in this phrase: "Cheney's _______ comments."

out of touch

OK, "place-ist" is kind of a stretch (give 'em a break; it's USA Today). But do you kind of get the idea? Some adjectives have a pretty clear connection to reality. "Blue" is a distinct part of the visible ("blue Impala") or emotional ("blue Christmas") spectrum. "Incendiary" is different. It requires a touch of our old friend the social construction of reality. Comments aren't incendiary because they're somewhere between red and yellow; they become incendiary (or condescending, elitist, whatever) when the AP or someone equally safe declares them so.

The fridge magnet game isn't perfect (no drinking involved, for one thing). But it's a way of reminding writers that "conventional wisdom" isn't a naturally occuring element. It's a social construct, and when you hire a social construct, you're hiring its baggage too.

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