Anyone watching television these days must be asking what happened to WHEN. Somewhere along the line television headline writers forgot that we need to know when something happened.
You’ve heard it:
“A Homeless man dies in a fire in Murray.”
“Golfers get Quite a Surprise when a plane lands on the ninth green”.
“An Earthquake Rocks the Philippines” we are told a full day after the event.
Now I know no one is deliberately trying to deceive the viewers, but we are creating more news-speak. Our attempts to improve our writing by making it more active and immediate are a great concept, but our results miss the mark.
Adding to the problem is that we then revert back and tell the rest of the story in past tense. If you watch FOX NEWS, they sometimes manage to get all three tenses of a verb of being in one sentence.
A long-time friend of mine Scott Libin at Poynter used to offer this suggestion for breaking the habit. Try talking that way to somebody in person and see what kind of funny look you get. “Come to think of it,” he says, “that’s probably the way a lot of people look at their televisions while the news is on.”