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Week of October 30, 2017

Wordsmiths take on fake news
and the relationship to dirtbag

It comes as no surprise that “fake news” has entered common speech. Lots of people use the term. So many, in fact, that Collins Dictionary named “fake news” its 2017 word of the year, usage increasing 365% in one year.

“Fake news” is defined by Collins Dictionary as a compound noun for “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.” Collins English Dictionary has named words of the year since 2013. It is published by HarperCollins in Glasgow, Scotland. Last year’s word was Brexit. With just a shade of irony, HarperCollins is a subsidiary of News Corporation.

"'Fake news', either as a statement of fact or as an accusation, has been inescapable this year, contributing to the undermining of society's trust in news reporting,” said Collins Dictionaries head of language content Helen Newstead, quoted by BBC (November 2). The term has most noticably been attributed to US president Donald Trump, who just this past week took credit for coining it. “One of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with,” reported CNN (October 26). Collins Dictionaries disputes this, saying the term first appeared just after the turn of the century. (See more about fake news here)

American dictionary Merriam Webster has not added “fake news” for reasons only a serious etymologists would love. “All it has to do is take on a specific and commonly used meaning that is independent of the meaning of fake and news,” said an explainer on its website. “For instance, dirtbag long ago had the meaning of ‘a bag for putting dirt into,’ and was not entered in many (if any) dictionaries. However, once it took on the figurative meaning of “a dirty, unkempt, or contemptible person” it began being seen as a worthy candidate for definition.” It notes “fake news” appearing a century earlier, in the 1890s, of course in a newspaper headline.

As the center of gravity for the English language shifts, Australian Macquarie Dictionary named “fake news” its word of the the year (2016) in January.

Entering common usage and the loss of civility
"even more unbearable"

Impunity is a word not often in common usage. It means “exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of an action,” according to Oxford Dictionaries. It’s derived from the Latin impunis for unpunished. Indeed Roman orator Cicero used it well: “The greatest incitement to guilt is the hope of sinning with impunity.” It’s been coming up more lately.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted in 2013 a resolution creating International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on November 2nd, commemorating the murder of two French journalists in Mali on that date. In a statement this week UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - noted 930 journalists “killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public” since 2006, roughly one every four days. Ninety percent of the murders went unpunished. Impunity.

“What makes these figures even more unbearable is that, in more than nine out of ten cases, the perpetrators are never brought to justice,” said UNESCO director general Irina Bokova in a statement (October 27). “We must ensure justice is done for every journalist killed. This is essential for their memory. It is vital to strengthen the rule of law and good governance.” (See more about press/media freedom here)

This week Kurdistan TV cameraman Arkan Sharifi was murdered in his home by unidentified assailants, reported the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (October 30). Two weeks earlier Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bombing. Those responsible have not been identified or apprehended. Impunity.

Producers told not to stray from the formula
"Experimental thrillers" limited

To every long-running TV series comes the inevitable meeting with the producers and those who put the show together. Something needs to change, a new spark of energy, viewers are getting bored. Writers, directors, editors, cast, everybody knows what’s coming and suspects who’s going. Resistance is futile.

A staple of German TV drama for forty-seven years is Tatort (Crime Scene), seen normally on Sunday evenings, produced by German public network ARD. Unique among dramatic TV productions Tatort follows a thin plot-line with cast, crew and locations rotating among the German regional public broadcasters and national public channel ZDF plus Austrian public broadcaster ORF and Swiss-German public broadcaster SRF. Thirty-five episodes per year are produced, all coordinated through ARD. (See more about media in Germany here)

In time individual producers have ventured into challenging themes, scripts and visuals. Some have taken a dark tone, critics suggesting pressure felt from the Nordic noir genre. Halloween being upon us, last Sunday’s Tatort - produced by Hessischer Rundfunk (HR) - indulged the supernatural with an episode called “Fear Yourself.” A recent episode from Bavarian public broadcaster BR pushed the boundaries, jumped over according to some, of sex on the small screen. Each producer, it seems, seeks the distinctive.

That is being reigned in. “The success of Tatort is in the fact that it has constantly changed over the decades… and has often been at the forefront of cinematic development,” prefaced ARD TV film coordinator Jörg Schönenborn, quoted by Focus (October 30). “Experimental thrillers,” he said, will be limited to “twice a year.” More ARD coordination is necessary “so that the films can be planned and placed appropriately.”

Reorganizing tools of the trade, adding nuance
a new shade

We have our journalism, based on the trusted who, where, what, when and why. And we have investigative journalism, based on digging for treasures in dumpsters and, more recently, cyberspace. We also have our tabloid journalism; gossipy, often goofy, usually imaginative (to be gracious), sometimes fun and a common barrel of fake news.

Newer to the trove is constructive journalism, meant use all of journalism’s tools for solutions. Several journalism schools have added it to their curriculum. It’s organized; there’s a website. Adherents swear it is not simply an updated version of “happy news.”

Celebrating a certain tipping point for constructive journalism, its first Global Constructive Journalism Award was bestowed last week at a conference in Aarhus, Denmark. The news service of Swedish public radio (SR), Ekot, was noted for “transforming its news culture,” reported (October 27). "From being old-fashioned and slightly grumpy Ekot has become a global frontrunner when it comes to implementing constructive journalism,” said the jury. “All regional radio stations in Swedish Radio now use the principles of solution-focused journalism every day.”

"It's all about context,” said SR Ekot journalist Annika Thor. “We must report on problems, but then the next step is to show that there are solutions.” Journalism, she offered, has a “black and white” tendency. “But that is not life. It is rather grey.”

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