When I saw the film “Sully,” I wanted to say, “Thanks, Tom Hanks.” I’ve had thanks on my mind. And thankers, too. I’ve been awash in the waves of thank-yous that flow over us daily. We hear them on newscasts and after newscasts. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But all those thank-yous can make a grown-up groan: thank-yous by anchors, thank-yous for reporters, thank-yous for guests, even thank-yous for audiences, thank-yous for every blessed thing. Seems as though no newsie goes home thankless. Of all the thank-yous I’ve heard lately, the most unusual was spoken by NBC News’s Jose Diaz-Balart. At the end of the network newscast he anchors at 6:30 p.m ET, Saturday, he says warmly to his viewers, “Thank you for the privilege of your time.” The privilege of my time? I don’t know what that means, but I gather that he’s just thanking us for watching him.
Do network reporters really need to be thanked nightly for doing their job, for which they’re probably paid well, if not handsomely?
Reuven Frank, the NBC News president who created “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” way back when, issued a thank-you alert in 1982 (on June 29, in case you’re wondering): “We thank each other too much. We are supposed to be talking to—and reporting for—an audience.” For which I would say, posthumously, “Thank you.”
Beside those constant thank-yous, I’m affected (afflicted?) by another irritant, or should I call it an earitant? It’s a response sometimes spoken by a reporter after an anchor intros him. Then the reporter says immediately, “That’s right, Jack (or Jill).”
We don’t need a reporter confirming what the anchor had just told us. Why do reporters do that? Beats me.
So I asked an expert in such matters, Andy Fisher, a retired NBC news writer. Andy said, “I think the purpose of’ saying ‘That’s right, Jack’ is to create the illusion that the anchor knows and/or cares about the story.”
Another earitant I ran into recently: an anchor’s use of “Keeping them honest.” Anderson Cooper of CNN began a recent program (8 p.m., July 31) with that meaningless phrase, long a favorite of his. Made me wonder who’s being kept honest? How does Cooper know? Who’s keeping whom honest? The first person Cooper mentioned that night was President Trump. Has Cooper kept him honest? Another earitent that night: Cooper’s telling a newspaper reporter, “I appreciate you being with us.” Correct: “I appreciate your being with us.” The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage says: “Beware of a present participle (the ing form of a verb) when it directly follows a noun or a pronoun. Look twice at the meaning of the phrase because the participle often plays the role of a noun in such a sentence. And when that happens, the previous word should be possessive (his, her, their…..)”
Another irritant is a visual one. It deals with punctuation; but because networks have goofed, I call it punktuation. Let’s start with ABC’s morning program, “Good Morning America.” What’s wrong is the lack of a comma after “Morning.” Hollywood, which is not distinguished for spelling, got it right when it released the Robin Williams movie “Good Morning, Vietnam.” A website, “Grammar Errors,” tells why: “Always use a comma when directly addressing someone/something, regardless of whether the direct address is at the beginning or end of the sentence.”
As for CBS’s “Forty Eight Hours,” “Forty-Eight” should be hyphenated. Andy Fisher has a complaint. (As they might say in Brooklyn, he’s entitled.) He asks, “Why do gunshots on newscasts so often ‘ring out’? “When I think of ringing,,” he said, “I think of bells. Gunshots do not sound like bells. The phrase “Let freedom ring’ has also bothered me for some time.” Andy, just think ‘”Let freedom reign,” and the ringing should stop.
As for guns and gunnery, even if you know less than a novice in a nunnery (Thanks, Sir W. S. Gilbert), you do need to recognize a cliché when you run into one. We’re bedeviled by a slew of clichés, some related to those earitating shots. Another ballistic cliché: dodge a bullet. Just make sure you duck a hail of bullets. No, don’t bite the bullet. And remember smoking gun. Also, mystery surrounds. Take brutally murdered. Please. Is anyone ever murdered kindly? And major breakthrough. A breakthrough is a major event. Also redundant is major milestone. If an event is a milestone, it is major. Then there’s violent explosion. Have you ever heard of a peaceful explosion?
Are you trying to kick the habit of using any of those clichés? Give it a shot.
© Mervin Block 2017
Mervin Block is the author of Writing Broadcast News Shorter, Sharper, Stronger: A Professional Handbook.
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“Rewriting Network News” and “Writing News for TV and Radio”
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