Memo puts WGN news staffers at a loss for words

March 10, 2010

Sure, you'd think the chief executive officer of a company struggling to emerge from bankruptcy and desperate to salvage an $8 billion buyout-gone-bad would have better things to do than pester his underlings with crazy proclamations. But in the case of Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels, you'd be wrong.


Randy Michaels (photo from Los Angeles Times)

The man at the top of the troubled media empire took time out of his real job this week to issue a list of words and phrases --  119 of them, to be exact --  that must never, ever be uttered by anchors or reporters on WGN-AM (720), the news/talk radio station located five floors below his office in Tribune Tower.

Believe me, I'm not making this up.

WGN news director Charlie Meyerson, good soldier that he is, passed on what he identified as Michaels' "list of forbidden 'newsspeak' words and phrases" in a memo to his staff Monday, with the explicit warning: "Don't say them on WGN."

Meyerson, a veteran Chicago newsman, has long championed the idea of delivering the news in a down-to-earth, conversational manner. That's all well and good. As Meyerson explained in his memo:

"The real goal here is to avoid using words that make you sound like you're reading, instead of talking --  that shatter the image you're speaking knowledgeably to one person. By not using 'newsspeak,' you enhance your reputation as a communicator."

But Meyerson takes it a step further, directing his staff to keep tabs on each other's compliance: They're to report any on-air infractions by their co-workers, making sure to note the precise time and date on "bingo cards" he provided that contain a random assortment of Michaels' forbidden words. If you ask me, that's just plain creepy.

What's even more disturbing is that the CEO of a major institution would engage in such petty and insulting micromanaging of subordinates. Here, without further ado, is Randy Michaels' complete list of unacceptable expressions on the Tribune Co.'s flagship radio station:

  • "Flee" meaning "run away"
  • "Good" or "bad" news
  • "Laud" meaning "praise"
  • "Seek" meaning "look for"
  • "Some" meaning "about"
  • "Two to one margin" . . . "Two to one" is a ratio, not a margin. A margin is measured in points. It's not a ratio.
  • "Yesterday" in a lead sentence
  • "Youth" meaning "child"
  • 5 a.m. in the morning
  • After the break
  • After these commercial messages
  • Aftermath
  • All of you
  • Allegations
  • Alleged
  • Area residents
  • As expected
  • At risk
  • At this point in time
  • Authorities
  • Auto accident
  • Bare naked
  • Behind bars
  • Behind closed doors
  • Behind the podium (you mean lecturn) [sic]
  • Best kept secret
  • Campaign trail
  • Clash with police
  • Close proximity
  • Complete surprise
  • Completely destroyed, completely abolished, completely finished or any other completely redundant use
  • Death toll
  • Definitely possible
  • Diva
  • Down in (location)
  • Down there
  • Dubbaya when you mean double you
  • Everybody (when referring to the audience)
  • Eye Rack or Eye Ran
  • False pretenses
  • Famed
  • Fatal death
  • Fled on foot
  • Folks
  • Giving 110%
  • Going forward
  • Gunman, especially lone gunman
  • Guys
  • Hunnert when you mean hundred
  • Icon
  • In a surprise move
  • In harm's way
  • In other news
  • In the wake of (unless it's a boating story)
  • Incarcerated
  • Informed sources say . . .
  • Killing spree
  • Legendary
  • Lend a helping hand
  • Literally
  • Lucky to be alive
  • Manhunt
  • Marred
  • Medical hospital
  • Mother of all (anything)
  • Motorist
  • Mute point. (It's moot point, but don't say that either)
  • Near miss
  • No brainer
  • Officials
  • Our top story tonight
  • Out in (location)
  • Out there
  • Over in
  • Pedestrian
  • Perfect storm
  • Perished
  • Perpetrator
  • Plagued
  • Really
  • Reeling
  • Reportedly
  • Seek
  • Senseless murder
  • Shots rang out
  • Shower activity
  • Sketchy details
  • Some (meaning about)
  • Some of you
  • Sources say . . .
  • Speaking out
  • Stay tuned
  • The fact of the matter
  • Those of you
  • Thus
  • Time for a break
  • To be fair
  • Torrential rain
  • Touch base
  • Under fire
  • Under siege
  • Underwent surgery
  • Undisclosed
  • Undocumented alien
  • Unrest
  • Untimely death
  • Up in (location)
  • Up there
  • Utilize (you mean use)
  • Vehicle
  • We'll be right back
  • Welcome back
  • Welcome back everybody
  • We'll be back
  • Went terribly wrong
  • We're back
  • White stuff
  • World class
  • You folks

 

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