Analysts, Critics, Experts & Officials Agree: We Talk About Them An Awful Lot

On page 33 of Jonathan Kern’s Sound Recording there’s an entry titled: “Avoid Meaningless Attributions.”

“Beware of the overused terms ‘officials,’ ‘analysts,’ ‘critics’ and ‘experts,’ ” Jonathan writes. His message: Obviously, we should push to use actual names as often as possible. But when we can’t do that, it’s often the case that other words can be found that are precise and offer relief from repetitive references to “officials say” this and “experts say” that.

The ubiquitous “experts,” for example, might be “biologists,” “historians” or “numismatists,” depending on their specialties. (Yes, Korva, we want you to use “numismatists” on the air some day.)

In some cases “officials” can just disappear from a line altogether. Jonathan’s example: Instead of writing “Ford officials say they’re coming out with a new hybrid car,” say “Ford is coming out with a new hybrid car.”

We bring this up because a look back over the past year indicates we’re not heeding his advice.

– “Officials” was heard 2,022 times.
– “Critics” was heard 1,055 times.
– “Experts” was heard 636 times.
– “Analysts” was heard 351 times.

Our guests were certainly responsible for many of the times those words were used. But NPR officials would have to concede that critics, experts and analysts are correct when they say that we’ve contributed more than our fair share. Robert Siegel can testify to that. He says in Sound Reporting that he has spent “a lifetime trying to pull ‘officials’ out of All Things Considered.”

But, But, But …

By now, every member of the Washington desk is poised to send an email that points out they often have to say “administration officials” or “White House officials” or “Justice Department officials” or some variation of those words that their sources insist on. We understand. All we ask is that alternatives be kept in the mix: “Top advisers,” “close aides” and others.

Emails are probably being drafted by the business desk (which has to deal with “analysts”), the science desk (“experts”) and others.

Dave Mattingly is surely wondering what he’s supposed to do when he doesn’t have time for even just a few more words.

Again, the guidance is to look for alternatives. After all, not only are the words overused, they can be problematic. “Experts,” for instance, is both vague and often too-readily bestowed. “Critics” can be a backdoor way of getting in the “other side” without identifying them.

Related Posts:

– Precision Writing & Editing: 5 Timeless Tips

– When Looking For The Right Words, Beware Of ‘Imagined Elegance’

(Memmos; Feb. 19, 2015)

February 19, 2015

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