While trolling Google Reader yesterday, I spied something in the Knight Science Journalism Tracker (powered mainly by well-known science writer Charlie Petit) that hit a little too close to home. I enjoy reading the Tracker because it's a blog about science writing for science writers. Every day the authors pick out a few current science stories in the media to praise or nitpick. They analyze where the reporters of the story did well--like reporting from location, for example, or showing unusual reporting moxie--and what they may have done poorly--recycling quotes from a press release without acknowledgment, or, (shudder) simply not explaining the science well or even accurately. It's a good reminder even for those of us who work in more of a public relations capacity to keep striving to be engaging, accurate and useful.
Today's entry started out innocuously enough. It was about a new dinosaur fossil discovery in South Africa. The bones may fill a gap in our evolutionary understanding. But more than one of the media reports of the discovery committed one of Petit's cardinal sins: they referred to the finding as a 'missing link'. He called the use of the cliche the result of "reaching into the barrel where imagination goes to die." Ouch. He also takes stabs at a couple of other easy-outs in the journalism world-- the expressions 'to shed light on' and (worst of all, he says) 'Holy Grail'-- and directs readers to a Wired.com article that backs him up. Double ouch.
Let's see....I don't *think* I've used 'missing link' any time in the recent past. But I hang my head in shame when it comes to Holy Grail (as recently as July of this year). And 'to shed light on'? (Cue crickets chirping as I look for a hole in which to crawl.) That's one of my favorites!
I don't come out smelling any sweeter on the Wired list. They concur with Petit's list and add 'silver bullet' and 'paradigm shift'. I've spared myself a direct Google search, but I'm certain there are plenty of silver bullets lying around with my byline on them. And I'm sure the only reason I *haven't* used paradigm shift is because I only recently figured out what it actually means. Ugh.
Now I'm feeling nervous about everything I write. But I suppose that's better than being complacent and unimaginative. Right? So. I hereby vow to clean up my act and banish such phrases from my articles and blog posts. It will be a paradigm shift! No, no, I will turn over a new leaf! Oh, wait. Ok. I will walk the straight and narrow! (Uh...Hmm. This is going to be more difficult than I thought. Shoot.)