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Wall-o-text vs. simple narratives
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Clinically Insane
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Nov 19, 2013, 06:42 PM
 
It drives me crazy when people want to reduce complex matters into simplistic narratives, whether this is some sort of complex political apparatus, or even just sports psychology...

However, I also find it difficult to pinpoint when to not make things more complicated than they need to be, recognizing the reality that most others will gravitate towards the simple narrative.

I guess I try to strike a balance by assessing when a reality is shaped by public perception, but I'm not very good at doing this.

What also makes this trickier to me is when that wall-o-text can be persuasive and/or manipulative. For instance, perhaps to some hearing their doctors rattle off some medical jargon is more comforting hearing than somebody who doesn't, as that medical jargon can suggest a sense of knowledge and experience. The same is certainly true with technical jargon such as "cloud" and a huge range of marketing/sales language.

However, even while there are some people that want to know that their doctor can speak doctor and their computer geek can speak geek, there are others who just want the ability to distill things down to a simple narrative, and maybe for certain people to self-edit a little better to strive for more succinctness and clarity.

Do you guys struggle with knowing what sort of balance to strike in certain contexts? I would think that overall it is best to default to the succinct, but do you ever allow yourself to speak geek, or whatever it is that you do well, in order to impress/manipulate/comfort?
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 06:50 PM
 
TL;DR version:

"Complex and long assessment vs. short and simple, but probably wrong, slogan version.

Discuss."
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 06:51 PM
 
Personally, I hate blather. Say what's necessary and GTFO.

I always hated minimum page requirements in school, because I'd usually get the essentials said in far less.

As complex as necessary but cut the elitist jargon if you're not among colleagues. Impress me by explaining something succinctly in less than 90 seconds.
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 07:03 PM
 
Brevity is the soul.
     
Clinically Insane
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Nov 19, 2013, 07:06 PM
 
Do you guys ever find yourself manipulated in some way by somebody rattling off jargon or other "stuff" in their field? I mean, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye have done well bringing the sciences to lay people, but also because they are a unique breed.
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 07:16 PM
 
That's dependent on the intent of the speaker rather than the jargon itself.

Also, the dynamic is changing now that you're able to look things up at a moment's notice.

That said, useful jargon is for brevity, useless jargon is for mystification.
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 07:21 PM
 
This brings up an interesting point re: news here too.

What do you guys prefer reading? The three-paragraph-and-outs, or articles like the summary of both Apple's and Samsung's closing arguments today?
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 07:31 PM
 
Short and contentious.

I'm only half kidding.
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 07:55 PM
 
Long winded.

I'm half serious.

-t
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 08:02 PM
 
KISS

radom text to make sure caps show in post
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 08:29 PM
 
Originally Posted by besson3c View Post
Do you guys ever find yourself manipulated in some way by somebody rattling off jargon or other "stuff" in their field? I mean, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye have done well bringing the sciences to lay people, but also because they are a unique breed.
I find with certain vendors, they lay the tech speak on thick and seem to be trying to dazzle with bullshit. It reminds me of car salesmen.

"Client, we need to push the implementation back since the widget cannot interface with the relay to the database without the SQL data connection to the XML..." you know, I can't make fun properly because that almost made sense.

Unfortunately, it works with some people. The clients don't understand the tech speak and nod and say sure.
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 08:42 PM
 
How about "simple and concise thesis in an introductory paragraph" (only a sentence or two), and then expand as needed on points in the thesis. This may be wordy, but if well written it's obvious where one point ends and another starts, making it less dense and more understandable. I'm not claiming that I do that part very well, particularly online, but it's the essence of technical writing. And frankly, if it's involved enough to warrant more than three or four sentences, it should be worth the writer taking the time to at least try to make it understandable. Example: besson's OP is clear, accessible, and it properly separates different ideas.

I should point out in response to a couple of besson's points that a whole lot of "doctors" ain't "physicians," in that they can't be bothered to try to communicate effectively with their patients, and a whole lot of geeks will never live anywhere but their mom's basement because they can't get past geek-speak to relate to non-geeks in any meaningful way. This is because when a specialist overrates him/herself, you find less and less attempts at relating to non-specialists. It's an example of "the more specialized a person is, the more they think they know about everything" (which I'll attribute to Heinlein). The converse is "if you can't explain it to your grandmother, you don't really understand it." I work hard at living by that point.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 08:46 PM
 
I try and resist the impulse to use Silicon Valley buzzwords, but there are some which are really damn good.

Monetize
Gamify
Pivot
Scale
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 08:50 PM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
Stuff
239 words.

Work on it.




     
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Nov 19, 2013, 08:55 PM
 
Thesis and exposition in paragraph 1. Side issue (I thought well noted) in paragraph 2.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 10:21 PM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
How about "simple and concise thesis in an introductory paragraph" (only a sentence or two), and then expand as needed on points in the thesis. This may be wordy, but if well written it's obvious where one point ends and another starts, making it less dense and more understandable. I'm not claiming that I do that part very well, particularly online, but it's the essence of technical writing. And frankly, if it's involved enough to warrant more than three or four sentences, it should be worth the writer taking the time to at least try to make it understandable. Example: besson's OP is clear, accessible, and it properly separates different ideas.

I should point out in response to a couple of besson's points that a whole lot of "doctors" ain't "physicians," in that they can't be bothered to try to communicate effectively with their patients, and a whole lot of geeks will never live anywhere but their mom's basement because they can't get past geek-speak to relate to non-geeks in any meaningful way. This is because when a specialist overrates him/herself, you find less and less attempts at relating to non-specialists. It's an example of "the more specialized a person is, the more they think they know about everything" (which I'll attribute to Heinlein). The converse is "if you can't explain it to your grandmother, you don't really understand it." I work hard at living by that point.

Thanks for your kind words about my writing

I think a problem with the intro paragraph followed by other stuff formula is that many articles don't expose their thesis right off the bat, they try to draw you in with, for example, some documentary-ish accounting of some situation that leads to the thesis. This is pretty acceptable writing for certain kinds of articles...

However, I think fewer and fewer people have patience for that now. This is evidenced by the fact that sites like the Huffingtonpost don't even assume that people will read their thesis in the intro paragraph, they put it in the headlines and make them really titillating.

See, that's the problem I have with the concise thing: it is so easy to make something concise adopt some sort of narrative that gels with one's confirmation bias, or just paints a plausible picture that makes the reader feel that he/she doesn't have to delve into the full details.

My examples here are pretty news-specific, but this seems true for so many things in life: technology, sports, politics, business, etc.

TL;DR: people don't want to read, and sometimes catering to this establishes bias, misinformation, encourages annoyingly simplistic thinking, other bad stuff...
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 10:25 PM
 
Originally Posted by andi*pandi View Post
I find with certain vendors, they lay the tech speak on thick and seem to be trying to dazzle with bullshit. It reminds me of car salesmen.

"Client, we need to push the implementation back since the widget cannot interface with the relay to the database without the SQL data connection to the XML..." you know, I can't make fun properly because that almost made sense.

Unfortunately, it works with some people. The clients don't understand the tech speak and nod and say sure.
Exactly, tech people are horrible this way!

I know this is going to sound racist, but I find it amusing how the India tech scene seems to try to mimic American industry language and using all the buzz-words and stuff, only when they do it at times it almost seems like a parody of American culture.

China's tech culture often seems sort of like an older version of American tech culture.

Not to say that any of these cultures is superior, they all have their quirks and shortcomings.
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 10:28 PM
 
Originally Posted by turtle777 View Post
Long winded.

I'm half serious.

-t

I agree with you, for the second time this week!

Like you, I'm half serious too. One of the problems I've had with people that rag on news agencies like NPR/PBS is that while nothing is without bias, at least they are long-winded and try to give you more than a manipulative headline or one-paragraph article that is basically "Republican/Democrat do bad thing".
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 10:29 PM
 
Sorry, I'm flirting with political stuff here, I honestly didn't set out to make this a political thread, my examples just seem to draw from politics the most.
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 11:08 PM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
How about "simple and concise thesis in an introductory paragraph" (only a sentence or two), and then expand as needed on points in the thesis. This may be wordy, but if well written it's obvious where one point ends and another starts, making it less dense and more understandable. I'm not claiming that I do that part very well, particularly online, but it's the essence of technical writing. And frankly, if it's involved enough to warrant more than three or four sentences, it should be worth the writer taking the time to at least try to make it understandable. Example: besson's OP is clear, accessible, and it properly separates different ideas.

I should point out in response to a couple of besson's points that a whole lot of "doctors" ain't "physicians," in that they can't be bothered to try to communicate effectively with their patients, and a whole lot of geeks will never live anywhere but their mom's basement because they can't get past geek-speak to relate to non-geeks in any meaningful way. This is because when a specialist overrates him/herself, you find less and less attempts at relating to non-specialists. It's an example of "the more specialized a person is, the more they think they know about everything" (which I'll attribute to Heinlein). The converse is "if you can't explain it to your grandmother, you don't really understand it." I work hard at living by that point.
The way you wrote what you were explaining didn't follow you were saying, your point was made with your first sentence. The rest of the first paragraph should've been the second paragraph - according to your logic (which I agree with).

This is a good way to write emails especially, because it lets the reader know right away what the email is about.
     
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Nov 19, 2013, 11:34 PM
 
Originally Posted by subego View Post
Brevity is the soul.
Indeed. When I see a WoT in a discussion that I'm involved in, more often than not I tune it out. I don't have half an hour to read it then post an in-depth rebuttal.
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
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Nov 19, 2013, 11:54 PM
 
For better or worse, language is undergoing a Gutenberg grade transformation right now. The epicenter is the ubiquity of text messages and the available bandwidth to find, create, and send images.
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 12:30 AM
 
Years ago I wrote long drawn-out expositions, but that was before I realized that other personalities online don't want to see things from your perspective, they largely just want to tear you down and argue.
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
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Nov 20, 2013, 08:42 AM
 
  1. Man snatches purse from woman
  2. Man snatches purse from his fainting wife to find the insulin pen she needs immediately.

If you just want someone to look bad, brevity is your best weapon in its appeal to the short attention span and is most prevalent on FB, Twitter, 501c ads, and Comedy Central. In this case, statement #1. The full story however, may require 3 times the number of words and more diligence from its readership.

It's about knowing your audience and the narrative you'd like to convey. Sometimes brevity is key, sometimes repetition is warranted, and sometimes the intended audience isn't who you think it is.
ebuddy
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 08:42 AM
 
Originally Posted by boy8cookie View Post
The way you wrote what you were explaining didn't follow you were saying, your point was made with your first sentence. The rest of the first paragraph should've been the second paragraph - according to your logic (which I agree with).

This is a good way to write emails especially, because it lets the reader know right away what the email is about.
I said I didn't do that part well, didn't I?

You're right, though. I kind of need a couple of proof-reads before I see where I need to separate some stuff. Sometimes I think I'm going in one direction, but when it shows up in letters on the screen, I go in a slightly different direction, so I need yet another proofing. I need to work on that.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 11:57 AM
 
Originally Posted by ebuddy View Post
  1. Man snatches purse from woman
  2. Man snatches purse from his fainting wife to find the insulin pen she needs immediately.

If you just want someone to look bad, brevity is your best weapon in its appeal to the short attention span and is most prevalent on FB, Twitter, 501c ads, and Comedy Central. In this case, statement #1. The full story however, may require 3 times the number of words and more diligence from its readership.
I disagree.

Man saves wife from diabetic shock

is an equally brief and correct assessment.

You are correct that brevity makes it much EASIER to mislead, by leaving important facts out of the equation. This is how Fox News and most tabloids work, for example.

However, brevity does not necessarily mislead: it merely requires careful and diligent focus by the writer/speaker.
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 12:37 PM
 
Originally Posted by besson3c View Post
However, I think fewer and fewer people have patience for that now. This is evidenced by the fact that sites like the Huffingtonpost don't even assume that people will read their thesis in the intro paragraph, they put it in the headlines and make them really titillating.
Proper journalism teaches that the first paragraph should be the lead. It should have all the facts, laid out truthfully and unemotionally. Then the rest of the article can have details, interviews, whatnot. The title should be factual and informative.

"House Burns Down on Main Street"
"At 12:25 this morning, a fire at 124 Main caused a 2-family home to burn to the ground. The families and pets were evacuated. Cause of the blaze could not be determined at press time."



I hate, with a burning passion, the new style of article headlines. "Which street had a fire last night?" "See which restaurant is moving into town!" "Can you believe what this mom did to save her dying child?" "Save money with these 5 tricks!"

Ugh. They sound like spam. Sometimes they are enticing, but I always feel a little... dirty, clicking on them. Like I'm going to someplace seedy and dishonest.

I can understand if print newspapers are dead, but I hope journalism isn't, even in an online world.
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 03:10 PM
 
Originally Posted by andi*pandi View Post
Proper journalism teaches that the first paragraph should be the lead. It should have all the facts, laid out truthfully and unemotionally. Then the rest of the article can have details, interviews, whatnot. The title should be factual and informative.

"House Burns Down on Main Street"
"At 12:25 this morning, a fire at 124 Main caused a 2-family home to burn to the ground. The families and pets were evacuated. Cause of the blaze could not be determined at press time."



I hate, with a burning passion, the new style of article headlines. "Which street had a fire last night?" "See which restaurant is moving into town!" "Can you believe what this mom did to save her dying child?" "Save money with these 5 tricks!"

Ugh. They sound like spam. Sometimes they are enticing, but I always feel a little... dirty, clicking on them. Like I'm going to someplace seedy and dishonest.

I can understand if print newspapers are dead, but I hope journalism isn't, even in an online world.

I couldn't agree more, although sometimes stories have "draw-you-in" story-like lead paragraphs:

"It was 5 AM, the alarm clock went off. Sarah knew that her life was going to change that day"
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 03:14 PM
 
Those are usually used more for editorial, or puff pieces though.
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 03:19 PM
 
Originally Posted by andi*pandi View Post
Those are usually used more for editorial, or puff pieces though.
Or pieces that perhaps are intended to be longer reads, like a magazine article?
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 03:25 PM
 
Originally Posted by besson3c View Post
I couldn't agree more, although sometimes stories have "draw-you-in" story-like lead paragraphs:

"It was 5 AM, the alarm clock went off. Sarah knew that her life was going to change that day"
That's just good writing, set up as a story/report.

Not strictly a news article.
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 03:46 PM
 
Originally Posted by ebuddy View Post
  1. Man snatches purse from woman
  2. Man snatches purse from his fainting wife to find the insulin pen she needs immediately.

If you just want someone to look bad, brevity is your best weapon in its appeal to the short attention span and is most prevalent on FB, Twitter, 501c ads, and Comedy Central. In this case, statement #1. The full story however, may require 3 times the number of words and more diligence from its readership.

It's about knowing your audience and the narrative you'd like to convey. Sometimes brevity is key, sometimes repetition is warranted, and sometimes the intended audience isn't who you think it is.

That's not brief, that's just lacking context, and thus willful manipulation (excluding Comedy Central). That is outside the scope of what I'm talking about here.
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 03:49 PM
 
It's an issue though as those become the dominant forms of communication.

Likewise, while I may not look down on the lack of attention in quite the same way as ebuddy, it's certainly there.
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 03:54 PM
 
Regarding the public perception vs. reality point I was making earlier, another way of putting this is that if reality is shaped by public perception, in these occasions the walls-o-text can be making things more complicated than they have to be - Occam's Razor.

I.e. sometimes the walls-o-text are needed to delve into an issue properly, sometimes they are just over-complicating things. It's sometimes hard to know when this is the case.

For example, Rob Ford... At this point it doesn't really matter what his accomplishments as mayor are (not that I'm defending any particular accomplishments), because at this point people don't trust him or feel comfortable with him in office, so public perception rules.
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 03:58 PM
 
Originally Posted by subego View Post
It's an issue though as those become the dominant forms of communication.

Likewise, while I may not look down on the lack of attention in quite the same way as ebuddy, it's certainly there.

Of course it is there, music is a great example of that... This is something that some entities accommodate, others exploit. I think maybe the solution is to meet people half way, pushing them to pay attention to things that require greater attention spans, but also not bombarding them. After all, you probably can't get somebody to meditate for an hour if they've never meditated before, no matter how willing or what the incentive is.
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 04:06 PM
 
Originally Posted by besson3c View Post
That's not brief, that's just lacking context, and thus willful manipulation (excluding Comedy Central). That is outside the scope of what I'm talking about here.
Not really.

You made a point of explaining how long-windedness and technical jargon can become manipulative by blustering the recipient.

It's relevant (IMHO; I didn't create this thread, obviously) to point out that reduction can even more easily be manipulative precisely through the elimination of vital context.

That's the textbook definition of how populism works: reduce to the point where the context is supplied by the listener, and people hear exactly what they want to hear.
And if you need "proof", invite some conspiracy theorist to blather on long enough that anybody but the most dedicated adversary will just stop listening at some point.
See: 9/11 truthers for great examples of this strategy.
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 04:14 PM
 
Originally Posted by Spheric Harlot View Post
Not really.

You made a point of explaining how long-windedness and technical jargon can become manipulative by blustering the recipient.

It's relevant (IMHO; I didn't create this thread, obviously) to point out that reduction can even more easily be manipulative precisely through the elimination of vital context.

That's the textbook definition of how populism works: reduce to the point where the context is supplied by the listener, and people hear exactly what they want to hear.
And if you need "proof", invite some conspiracy theorist to blather on long enough that anybody but the most dedicated adversary will just stop listening at some point.
See: 9/11 truthers for great examples of this strategy.

True, I take back what I said.

Maybe a part of original post was slightly misdirected too, in that it isn't so much about clinging to simple narrative as it is populist tendencies?
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 08:02 PM
 
Originally Posted by Spheric Harlot View Post
I disagree.

Man saves wife from diabetic shock

is an equally brief and correct assessment.
Yeah, but the relevant context here was the purse snatching. If it's a brevity contest, I could just say; "woman survives diabetic shock".

You are correct that brevity makes it much EASIER to mislead, by leaving important facts out of the equation. This is how Fox News and most tabloids work, for example.
I'd leave it at Comedy Central, FB, and Twitter since these really seem to be the kings of quips, but whatever floats your boat.

However, brevity does not necessarily mislead: it merely requires careful and diligent focus by the writer/speaker.
I agree that if it can be communicated in fewer words, it may be more efficient, but that doesn't always mean more effective. Audience is as important as the writer/speaker.
ebuddy
     
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Nov 20, 2013, 08:44 PM
 
Originally Posted by ebuddy View Post
Yeah, but the relevant context here was the purse snatching. If it's a brevity contest, I could just say; "woman survives diabetic shock".
The context was a man saving his wife from diabetic shock.

The condensed version was a misrepresentation ("man snatches purse") or a more accurate representation ("man saves wife") by refocusing the condensed version to the relevant detail.


Originally Posted by ebuddy View Post
I'd leave it at Comedy Central, FB, and Twitter since these really seem to be the kings of quips, but whatever floats your boat.
I wasn't talking about "quips". I was talking about deliberate misrepresentation of the caliber in your example.

Simplifying a complex subject matter to a single infographic and ripping that both out of scale and out of the timeline (by focusing on, say three months of budget development out of 70 years, and graphing only percentages 73-75%) is EXACTLY the kind of racy sensationalism tabloid stations like Fox employ on a regular basis.

I agree that if it can be communicated in fewer words, it may be more efficient, but that doesn't always mean more effective. Audience is as important as the writer/speaker.
Yes, simplification in terms of "number of words" doesn't make for easier comprehension.

The short story "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn." is pretty clear, and, given its intent, not misleading.
But telling it in three sentences would probably make it easier to understand.
     
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Nov 21, 2013, 07:50 AM
 
There used to be an art to writing headlines. Not so much anymore. My local paper seems to use unpaid interns to write headlines - and it would be better if they made sure those interns actually passed Freshman English.

The purpose of headlines is supposed to be to help the reader decide which stories to read first by encapsulating the essence of each story with a brief phrase. Today's headlines seem to be a mix of "let's point out the most tabloidish part of the story" and "we gotta put something over each story." Neither is "journalism."

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
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Nov 23, 2013, 06:17 PM
 
Originally Posted by besson3c View Post
The same is certainly true with technical jargon such as "cloud" and a huge range of marketing/sales language.
It sure makes the various CloudToButt scripts more fun.
     
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Nov 24, 2013, 08:41 AM
 
Originally Posted by Spheric Harlot View Post
The context was a man saving his wife from diabetic shock.
The full story includes why he snatched the woman's purse. The first version of the story was the hit and run version, brief, but deceptive. The second example indicates why he snatched the purse; the full story. If I leave out the purse-piece entirely, it doesn't explain why the man snatched the purse from the woman.

The condensed version was a misrepresentation ("man snatches purse") or a more accurate representation ("man saves wife") by refocusing the condensed version to the relevant detail.
I'm sure I could've come up with a more appropriate example if I had expected it to be analyzed so exhaustively.

I wasn't talking about "quips". I was talking about deliberate misrepresentation of the caliber in your example.
Right. Often delivered through quips most prevalent on Comedy Central, FB, and Twitter. Clever, entertaining, brief, but deceptive; a hit and run.

Simplifying a complex subject matter to a single infographic and ripping that both out of scale and out of the timeline (by focusing on, say three months of budget development out of 70 years, and graphing only percentages 73-75%) is EXACTLY the kind of racy sensationalism tabloid stations like Fox employ on a regular basis.
Perhaps the 3 months of budget development was profound and illustrative of a more pervasive problem not requiring 70 years of data. Otherwise, there isn't a news outlet in existence that doesn't employ this "climate science" model of cherry-picking data. Fox News isn't facing subpoenas for information they've collected or subjected to Justice Dept tapping including a targeted sting of a particular Fox News journalist and his family because they're a tabloid, but because they're getting a little close for comfort. *Hint; Star magazine and the Enquirer weren't caught up in the AP sting. I know Fox News is a huge source of leftist ire in that it offends the sensitivities of this Administration's faithful, but that's what you'd expect from the fourth estate.

i.e. Don't hate the playa'.
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Nov 25, 2013, 01:39 AM
 
The thing is, a single photograph related to the incident can grab you more than the headline, and convey more information, and be globally understood.

Of course, it can distort a whole lot more as well, but it's hard to argue for either WoT or simple narratives in the face of these strengths, except in specific circumstances where images are not enough. The purse incident certainly doesn't qualify.

Of course, none of this is new. There's a reason the Egyptians went with iconography. What's changed is the ability to effortlessly create images, and the available bandwidth to send them anywhere. Neither of these conditions existed 20 years ago, and previous to that, we have millennia where the lowest effort combined with highest bandwidth option was words.

The Onion has a joke, which like many Onion jokes, isn't really a joke.

The Internet killed Gutenberg.
     
   
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