rephrasing news reporting
So I was thinking today – what if news articles used a more literal phrasing when talking about collisions? For example, a car hits a pedestrian at a crosswalk because the driver didn’t use a turn signal, could be something along the lines of:
“A motorized transport vehicle collided with a pedestrian when the certified machine operator failed to employ the proper safety mechanisms. The pedestrian is now unable to walk.”
I think people would begin to see traffic collisions differently.
I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for that. There could be a development of alternative, re-written press articles to present what might have been written.
The first people we want to see these events as collisions/manslaughter rather than accidents/normal/acceptable are the reporters who fashion the narrative for everybody else, right?
Instead of being cathartic, scathing, snarky and ineffective, if the rewrites could be circulated discreetly among the local news writers to demonstrate what might have been, it might actually begin to effect news coverage in the area.
If we did that for a while, then we got 2 or 3 of the more established reporters to chair a reporter’s seminar (Jon Schmidt comes to mind) with a few of BikePgh’s policy gurus, we could advance the cause.
Edit: This is a link to a document about non-mode-biased, objective language use in transportation communications. To many it’s remarkable for it’s uniqueness and the fact that it comes from West Palm Beach Florida in 1996, a time/place not known for activism – but they were quite right.
DLRWG would be an interesting project: The DownLow ReWrite Group. I’d be interested in participating.
I would participate as well. Owning the language goes a long way toward winning the argument. One change I would propose: every time an article asserts that a “car” maimed or killed someone, we change the word to “driver.” I think it’s important to put the blame where it belongs, rhetorically.
I doubt that you’ll see anything like that as long as the medium is sponsored by automotive ads. Just sayin’.
+1 Joanne. As in: Guns don’t kill people, people don’t kill people. MADD was very effective in putting the emphasis on the driver, it was one of the key shifts they made.
BADD. Bicyclists Against Dumb Drivers.
How does someone report like this berfore police finishes investigation? And results of investigqations are not always made public.
For a demonstration of a somewhat similar rewrite advocacy, check out Pittsburgh’s own Sue Kerr (who rocks) taking the Cleveland Plain Dealer to task for hamfisted, archaic, biased reporting within her field of activism.
@Vannevar, regarding the Sue Kerr piece:
I can sort of see the parallel, but I think that the article itself fails to really sum up the back story in a way that introduces the reader to the controversy. At face value, it just looks like the newspaper used male pronouns in reference to this person’s gender which would make sense if that was his(?) biological gender(?) at the time of death… regardless of personal preference. At face value, it looks like the trans-gender community is over-reacting on the issue; but, it’s hard to say given that I am not familiar with the case, the published articles, the back-and-forth with the newspaper, etc.
I’m not trying to state a position one way or the other. Rather, I’m just pointing out that for someone unfamiliar with the situation, Kerr’s article is difficult to get behind.
Drewbacca, to explain why I quoted Kerr (but not in any way to pick an argument), may I highlight some portions of your response, and then try to bring it back to bike advocacy?
At face value, it just looks like the newspaper used male pronouns in reference to this person’s gender which would make sense if that was his(?) biological gender(?) at the time of death… regardless of personal preference. At face value, it looks like the widget community is over-reacting on the issue; but, it’s hard to say given that I am not familiar with the case, the published articles, the back-and-forth with the newspaper, etc.
I’m not in any way qualified to pick up Sue Kerr’s banner and make the LGBTQIA position clear, but I’d like to suggest they hold for (1) individual autonomy (2) the notion that individuals get to self-identify, not society-imposed identification, (3) misidentification in death is the last final disrespect, (4) people who think this is an over-reaction just don’t get it, (5) education and discussion are the keys to change. Further, in this case the paper’s unfamiliarity with accepted contemporary standards is unprofessional.
DrewBacca’s comment about Kerr is similar to what so many people said to me, when I disliked the media coverage about the 8-year old run over by the car and the media’s sympathetic coverage of the driver. People said things like, “it’s only an accident”, “the driver didn’t do anything wrong”, “you talk like she did a bad thing”, “hey there’s two victims here”, etc.
When I object they said things like, “the bike community is way over-reacting and too self-focused“, “it’s not all about you guys”, “it just makes sense that you’re gonna get hit if you’re in the road with the cars”, “sometimes these things happen, get over it”.
Because to the majority, to the people making those comments on the P-G, bicyclists are a small minority making unreasonable demands, and the status quo just makes sense. Roads are for cars. Expect to get hit. Cars shouldn’t have to slow down. Cars are serious. Bikes are toys. Drivers have jobs. Our closet is the bike trail, and we should stay in the closet.
So, how did the civil rights movement change the media coverage of racial issues? How is the gay-gender rights movement changing their treatment by the media? (see Sue Kerr, among others)
How are we going to get past, “A bicyclist who was not wearing a helmet died this afternoon after an accident on a busy street, which was not marked with joint-use sharrows. There was no bike lane. The driver of the car, who initially did not realize she had run over a bike, called police after another parent at the aftercare pointed out bits of skull and hair on her SUV’s front bumper. Her family has asked for prayer and support in this most difficult time.”
Say it loud: I’m a bicyclist and I’m proud. (no offense to anybody, but I mean to suggest the change paradigm)
Cheers on a sunny day in paradise,
I think my point was that it needs to be kept simple… the whole gender issue is anything but simple and therefor doesn’t make for the best example.
For the bike cause, in order to reach the desired audience (as opposed to just preaching to the choir), it needs to be a simple message that also conforms to a standard.
I suppose that my real nitpick about the article cited is that Kerr is essentially saying that it’s OK for a police report and any other document to say one thing while expecting the news paper article to read differently. It’s hard to fault a newspaper for lack of objectivity when they are using the same terminology as the legal community. Changing the language to suit a cultural goal strikes me more as propaganda for a cause than an objective position.
I’m being very careful to tiptoe around the issue and not spark an argument with anyone (not just you, V). I have friends with grad degrees in gender studies and just this much talk could already result in a week long discussion on that issue… LOL
But anyways, my criticism of the Kerr article is that it can be used as an example of both what to do and also what not to do. I think that the MADD example works better as a template i.e. focusing on the distracted or under-educated driver who made a careless mistake resulting in the loss of a life or injury… rather than focusing on the vehicle which depersonalizes an accident*.
*what are we calling these “accidents” again?
I think the terms “collision,” “crash,” or “wreck” have been suggested in place of “accident.”
they hold for (1) individual autonomy (2) the notion that individuals get to self-identify, not society-imposed identification, (3) misidentification in death is the last final disrespect, (4) people who think this is an over-reaction just don’t get it, (5) education and discussion are the keys to change.
this, a thousand times, this. its a simple issue with a simple position from the affected community. the only thing that complicates it are societal prejudices. very similar in my mind to the way our simple and clear “hey stop running us over and then acting like the jackass that did it is the victim” position gets turned into something “complicated” by societal prejudice.
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