Is the web killing tabloidese?

07 March 2010 0

Carol Midgley writes in The Times that the internet is killing the art of tabloid speak.

Because the web doesn’t have the same constraints of space that print publications do, she argues, there is no need for all the mad little euphemisms and turns of phrase (tot, romp, dub etc) that sub editors have invented over the years, giving rise to such gems as ‘Sex romp bus driver clears name’.

I think Midgley is right that the web will kill tabloidese, but I think it’s about more than just brevity.

She describes tabloidese as “those words and phrases that red-top newspapers use because they are ‘popular’ yet have never been uttered in real life by a single person, not once, not ever.”

The apparent contradiction she describes is, I believe, quite deliberate. Users of tabloidese are trying to perform a balancing act: sounding down-to-earth, while at the same time sending out the message: “I am a journalist. Look, I speak in special journalisty language. You should listen to me.” It’s a way of convincing the reader that you’re their type of person, while simultaneously setting yourself up as an authority figure and drawing a line of separation between you.

This isn’t just the case in the tabloids – the pattern extends to more subtle examples of journalese used in all sorts of media.

If you want to use language to try to set yourself apart from your readers, fair enough, but it seems frightfully old media. One thing that blogs and other web-based sources of information are good at is talking to people on a level. Instead of using language to identify themselves as something different and establish a one-way “I talk, you listen” relationship, they use it to join in the conversation. Because that’s what media is increasingly about: conversations.

I think that’s the more significant change in the way journalism works online, and I think it’s the real reason why the web will kill journalese.


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