Empty Words, Lazy Editing

October 8, 2007

On my way to work this morning, I heard this report about hackers on NPR:

“Hackers are finding new ways to deliver spam, steal data and introduce computer viruses. New research suggests that online media players could be their next weapon.”

While it’s mostly a prediction of a coming trend, it starts by mentioning that we all know to delete suspicious emails without opening them and it does lead to a mention of recent threats on YouTube.

In closing (“bottom line…”) it sounds like we are going to get some specific, actionable advice.

Perhaps to keep our media players up to date with the latest security patches? Or to avoid certain websites? Or certain kinds of files? Something.

No. We are only cutely advised “viewer discretion.”

Which means what? What are we supposed to do (or not do) with that advice?

Nothing. They are empty words.

It is sloppy reporting and lazy editing. It’s journalism that favors style over substance, the cute over the real.

It may also mean NPR is not taking the online world quite as seriously as the “real” world.
In any case, it was the sort of “story” that I expect James Michaels (the demanding editor of Forbes for 37 years who died last week) would have sent back for a rewrite, penning something like this on the draft:

“This is a real snoozer, lacking in specifics. Why not just send them a nice lacy valentine and forget the prose.”

I expect better from NPR.