Friday, 18 September 2009

Barbed words

There was a discussion in one of our July posts about new words that are modelled on other established words (telegenic from photogenic, digerati from literati).

Dictionary compilers often stumble upon clumsy word blends that raise a groan (would the sublebrities and vegematarians please stand up?). However, some similarly constructed coinages must be admired for their incisiveness: they pin down exactly the sense they are intended to convey.

One coinage which neatly encapsulates an idea is churnalism. It is a blend of 'churn' and 'journalism' used by journalist Nick Davies in his 2008 book Flat Earth News, and the idea certainly caused a stir.

'Churnalism' was the name given by the writer to a perceived practice in news media, when decreasing budgets and increasing workloads take their toll, of regurgitating a news item without questioning its provenance. As a result of the practice, a single press release (or even one part of it) written by an individual or organization can be taken up by a newspaper and interpreted by its readers as unassailable fact. Other agencies might pick up the story from that newspaper and run it themselves.

As the story is reproduced, there may be little attempt on the part of time-poor journalists to do the job they would like to do in verifying the story or uncovering new aspects of it. Thus, one view of a particular situation, or even a general notion, can be latched on to and propagated but left unchallenged.

Churnalism is not a barbed word in the sense that it is intended to hurt. But it is a good example of a word that is trenchant, cutting through redundant verbiage and coming straight to the point.

Mary O'Neill

1 comment:

The Silver Eel said...

An interesting example of same in the reporting of Chambers' folding: the pieces in the Scotsman, Herald, Bookseller and BBC are almost exactly the same. Who wrote the original text? Presumably it came from an agency.

Post a Comment