Monday, October 29, 2007

Two Reasons to Avoid a Cliché

In a land that declares “all men are created equal,” reality has produced a cynical corollary: “Some are more equal than others.” As true as the addendum might be in a social sphere, slathering the cliché all over a news story is lazy and misleading. Both reporter and desk are guilty this morning.

A story about the problem a local military vet had finding a vaccine leads off with: “It would appear that when it comes to shingles shots at the VA clinic in Port Charlotte, some VA clinics are more equal than others.” A lazy page designer repeats the lead to write the headline. (Proving once again, reading stories isn’t required to get a Sun paycheck on Friday.)

Nothing in the story suggests all VA clinics are (supposed to be) created equal. The expense and demands of medical materials and procedures make it impossible to install MRI machines, obstetricians, and (as we learn) shingles vaccines at every location. The reporter discovers this particular vaccine needs special refrigeration unavailable in Port Charlotte, which is why it isn’t stored locally.

In the absence of a governing principle that all VA clinics are supposed to be created equal, slapping the empty cliché on this story insults and misleads readers. The kids on the copy desk thought it sounded profound enough to move the page to press. The seasoned writer, who should have known better, got lazy. It takes about two seconds to see it’s wrong because it’s shopworn, but it requires a bit of critical thinking – maybe about five seconds – to determine it’s also wrong in fact.

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