I noted an interesting phenomenon today – how a perfectly decent news report can be turned into a piece of really shoddy journalism in two words.
While making a cup of tea I found myself watching CNN by mistake – literally, as I pressed the wrong button on my remote control. It’s not something I would normally do as I find their presenters’ bizarre hybrid accents and forced gravitas off-putting (and reminiscent of certain sections of The Day Today), but for the time it took the kettle to boil I decided to stick with it.
A fairly standard story came on about a Toyota model recall. I spent several years working as an automotive journalist (I use the terms “working” and “journalist” in the loosest possible sense) so I know that these product recalls are nothing special and only ever get reported widely when there is some additional editorial reason – which generally boils down to wanting to scare people a bit more after some fatal accident that involved a mechanical failure.
Clearly as the story was all about Toyota, it was just revisiting last year’s stories about dangerous throttles in the US which saw the Japanese manufacturer’s sales drop dramatically.
Anyway, the story was pretty standard: so many thousands of cars would be recalled, it’s the latest of several recalls and luxury Lexus models were also affected (yes, even expensive cars can go wrong), all accompanied by static press shots of the models concerned. Then came the clincher in the final line of the report:
“No accidents have been reported in connection with the fault – as yet.”
It was that “as yet” that made all the difference. It was a sort of journalistic wink, a way of saying “…but we all know they will! In fact they probably have already, but we haven’t been told about them! After all, they are Toyotas, right?”
What a crass and unnecessary attempt to “sex up” a mundane piece of information, a cheap way of suggesting that a non-event is newsworthy because it is really a prelude to a probable future event i.e. fatality.
Why add “…as yet” at all? Because presumably it is editorial policy to sex up absolutely everything and because it might cause a few Toyota and Lexus owners to experience a small frisson of fear next time they start the car.
It got me wondering how else “…as yet” could be used. Perhaps: “A demonstration is taking place in the streets of Riga. The mood is calm and it could not be described as a riot – as yet.” (But it will be)
Or “Midsummer festivals are taking place across the country and police say the number of drunk drivers on the roads has not increased – as yet.” (But you can bet they’ll be reeling them in later)
How about: “Parties are meeting for coalition talks which have not broken down – as yet.” (But we all know they will).
STOP PRESS: While on the subject of journalism – this time of a much better kind – you might like to check out the website www.pietiek.com (in Latvian). It is a new investigative journalism/whistleblowing site run by three of Latvia’s best investigative reporters and it deserves your support.