August 21, 2001
the local beat
Robert Fisk on working at regional newspapers.
And we wrote in clichés. Always clichés. When the police were seeking a hit-and-run driver, they either "spread their net" or "narrowed their search" or "stepped up their hunt". Company directors were "bosses", scientists were invariably "boffins", officials were always "chiefs", storm-battered ships inevitably "limped" into port. Suicides were always tragic, brides always beautiful, angry councillors were "hopping mad" and protesting villagers would always "take to the streets". Those who discovered bodies were, of course, "horror-struck" or "mystified"; the latter applied to the construction gang building a new Blyth bypass who excavated dozens of corpses – all in their Victorian Sunday best – and thought they'd discovered a mass murder before realising they were digging up an old cemetery. Needless to say, Tory election candidates always "lashed out" at the sitting Labour MP, Eddie Blythe.
I'm on a bit of a Chomsky kick.
...that ``plain language is not enough when the frame of reference is not available to the listener'' [is] correct and important. But the right reaction is not to resort to obscure and needlessly complex verbiage and posturing about non-existent ``theories.'' Rather, it is to ask the listener to question the frame of reference that he/she is accepting, and to suggest alternatives that might be considered, all in plain language. I've never found that a problem when I speak to people lacking much or sometimes any formal education, though it's true that it tends to become harder as you move up the educational ladder, so that indoctrination is much deeper, and the self-selection for obedience that is a good part of elite education has taken its toll. Johnb says that outside of circles like this forum, ``to the rest of the country, he's incomprehensible'' (``he'' being me). That's absolutely counter to my rather ample experience, with all sorts of audiences. Rather, my experience is what I just described. The incomprehensibility roughly corresponds to the educational level. Take, say, talk radio. I'm on a fair amount, and it's usually pretty easy to guess from accents, etc., what kind of audience it is. I've repeatedly found that when the audience is mostly poor and less educated, I can skip lots of the background and ``frame of reference'' issues because it's already obvious and taken for granted by everyone, and can proceed to matters that occupy all of us. With more educated audiences, that's much harder; it's necessary to disentangle lots of ideological constructions.
There have been quite a few experiments in economic development in the modern era, and though it is doubtless wise to be wary of sweeping generalizations, still they do exhibit some regularities that are hard to ignore. One is that the designers seem to come out quite well, though the experimental subjects, who rarely sign consent forms, quite often take a beating.