Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Weasel Wording?

A long, long time ago in a place that not far away, I worked at a TV station, handling public relations. This was when a major vote was taking place in the province of Quebec, whether or not it should secede from the rest of Canada.

The station where I worked was small, a Podunk operation. To cover the story, it had to use a live television feed from CBC, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. While the station did have local talking heads coverage, it depended upon the CBC to track the story.

My boss – a man of considerable intellect – told me that I should write a press release this way to describe how the station was covering the event:

“The CBC teams up with our station to present…”

I didn’t use that phrase. I didn’t think that the CBC came to the pissant American station, desperately needing its services. It was more correct to say that the station was “teaming up” with the CBC. And even then, that was questionable, since teaming up implies two parties somewhat equal in stature and ability.

Due to this experience, I look at all media ads with a critical eye. Lately the Plattsburgh newspaper has run an ad promoting how job listings for the area are available through . Maybe this phrasing wasn’t meant to be intentionally misleading, but I still have qualms when I read the statement: “NOW MONSTER WORKS WITH PRESSREPUBLICAN.COM.”

Does consider Plattsburgh a key market for its continued success? Did it desperately seek out the Press-Republican to link their services? If the statement read that now works with, I wouldn’t be posting.

The placement of company names is important. In certain circumstances the name mentioned first implies superiority, e.g., AOL Buys Time-Warner. (Of course, the new name, AOL Time-Warner, has fallen into disuse. AOL, despite its former lead position, apparently didn’t deliver as planned.)

Maybe I’m being too cynical, parsing the phrase too closely. Then again, the Plattsburgh TV station, WPTZ – Channel 5, acts during its self-promotions as if it built the weather radar network used during its newscasts, having installed each radar station. (The Super Doppler Radar Network was actually built by the government, i.e., you the taxpayer.) It’s difficult to be open-minded when I see weaselly stuff like that.

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