Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Speaking political language...


Being journalism students, my classmates and I have the daunting task of covering the upcoming civic election for a news outlet in Manitoba. (Sorry, political buffs, but I can say with certainty that this assignment really is daunting!) We have to speak to residents in the ward we've been assigned, as well as the candidates who have thrown their name in the hat to run for city councillor or mayor.


That doesn't sound so bad, right?!

Well, here's the thing: speaking about politics is like speaking a foreign language to many people, especially civic politics. Seriously. When the term politics comes up in conversation, I would venture to say that many people -- from uneducated to extremely educated -- shutter at the word. It's like the cancer of the english language.

This is not because there is a lack of political-filled content in the newspaper, and on the TV and radio. Nor, is this because candidates haven't put themselves 'out there,' (because, for the most part, they have.) This is because formal politics are hard to understand.

The newspaper, for example; it's written at a grade six reading level. Well, that's fine and dandy, but when you write about something like politics -- a subject that makes use of big words, terms and phrases that are often difficult to understand the meaning of -- the "easy to read" news story becomes rather difficult.

Take, for example, this paragraph in today's Winnipeg Free Press:

There are a total of 51 people running for 15 council ward seats, plus four candidates for mayor. None of council’s 12 incumbents – Katz and 11 councillors — will run unopposed. That means there will be no acclamations in Winnipeg for two straight elections. There were no acclamations in 2006, either.

Sure, this starts off relatively easy to understand:

There are a total of 51 people running for 15 council ward seats, plus four candidates for mayor.

"Yeah, yeah; there are 51 people running in the election in 15 wards of the city...I get it."

But then, some of the words in this story (perhaps easy for some people to understand, especially if they follow civic politics...) get a little touchy:

None of council’s 12 incumbents – Katz and 11 councillors — will run unopposed. That means there will be no acclamations in Winnipeg for two straight elections.

"What?! No really; what?!" (This, my friends, is what I like to call that "Charlie Brown teacher moment," when everything you see, hear, or read becomes the 'Wah-wah-wah-wah' voice of Charlie Brown's teacher.)

I don't consider myself stupid, and I even took a few politics classes in university, but after a few years of not really following civic politics, I'm a little confused by this. (Like any language, if you don't use it, it tends to wear off!)

It's really a shame, because you can't blame people -- voters -- for not caring about civic politics, if they don't fully understand. And you certainly can't blame me (and my journalism classmates) for thinking that covering the election is daunting.

1 comment:

  1. Do people have a responsibility to understand this stuff?

    ReplyDelete