Through The Looking Glass: Lazy Journalism in Local Newspapers


As the strangely alluring monolith of everything right-thinking folk despise, there’s no denying the car-crash appeal of the likes of the Daily Mail; car crashes being exactly the kind of thing they longingly tease the public with graphic pictures of. It’s their duty to show us pictures other newspapers might disgracefully be printing; I think that’s their standpoint, I’m sure you appreciate the morals are a little vague.

However, there is an equally murky world on a local level. There was a report recently in my local rag, the Cambridge News, telling of a local girl who fell from the top of a multi-storey car park. The headline, should the details of the story not have enough drama (and indeed upset for her family and friends) opts to categorise it as a ‘plunge’. To ensure there is a full understanding, the first paragraph reads:

“A teenage girl was fighting for her life last night after she survived a plunge from the top of a multi-storey car park in Cambridge”.

“Plunge” like “romp”, “sex-act” and “tragic” is a word now rarely used other than in a newspaper. As such, it has taken on a rather cartoony quality, evoking images of Wile E. Coyote more than a serious situation. You would hope for simple, plainly written facts in a newspaper for a local area with a limited readership but the hyperbole seems even more gratuitous than the national papers. Who are these mystery people being pandered to?

Cut to later in the same week – a pensioner complained to Cambridge train station that the wall of the urinals at the station (I know, I know) was so shiny that the mirrored effect, in the paper’s words, found the gentleman with his “privacy left in tatters”. Tatters! It’s at points like this that one begins to wonder whether language as we know it still exists. The commuter goes on:

“It’s dreadful. You can see everyone in full view and a little kid about 5 years old was there and having a good look round.

” It’s like having a glass door into the ladies.”

He added: “My privacy has been demolished. If I need to go to the toilet I do not want people to see my privates.”

A train station spokesperson then duly tries to allay any fears that the toilets may in any way lead to the fall of Mankind, faced as they are with a situation involving demolition and tatters…among other things.

As part of his routine, John Cooper Clarke used to claim that the word “fantastic” had lost all meaning – an egg sandwich could be “fantastic” and no-one would bat an eyelid. An egg sandwich therefore accepted as literally being ‘the stuff of fantasy’.

Being fed rubbish news is nothing new but on a local level it’s particularly depressing. What is worse is the use of completely inappropriate language to describe events that no-one, anywhere, would feel the need to have sanitised. These aren’t film or music reviews (there’s my get out of jail free card), these are peoples’ lives. How has such lazy journalism become accepted and allowed to develop to such an extent that words begin to lose all meaning? It would be nice to imagine a new breed of journalist who eschews these bizarre conventions but the truth is that language is in danger of being left in…ah, y’know…