The Power of Words

Apr 14th, 2011 | By | Category: Daily Times

Very interesting comment on the power of words and the importance in choosing our words carefully as journalists. The author reminds us that we have through our words the ability to shape public opinion and heavily influence the path of the nation. This is a great power but also a great responsibility and we should take this responsibility seriously. The following article is by American Lieutenant Commander Tammy Swofford and was published in Daily Times.

Tammy SwoffordThe Ameri-Pak situation appears at an all-time low. Headlines across the globe trumpet the same news, whether the Daily Times of Pakistan or The New York Times of April 12, which sported the headline, ‘Pakistan tells US it must sharply cut CIA activities.’

The lead sentence for the article also bears mention: “The demand that the US scale back its presence is a sign of the near collapse of cooperation between the two testy allies after the arrest of a CIA security officer in Pakistan.”

All acknowledge the existence of a complex problem. All involved understand that blame, while never being coequal in status, must still be shouldered with equal responsibility if solutions are to be negotiated. But what complicates things immensely are the journalism drones. We are a pompous lot, those of us who serve up opinions from our desks, whilst sipping our tea and gazing out the window. Our thoughts take quick flight with the least whiff of a stink. Journalists love a ready-made story and this current drama presents multiple angles of presentation. Because this current stench betwixt and between our nations is likely to continue in unabated manner for months to come, it is good to remember a few basic rules of professional journalism.

Words have power. Each word is like a bullet with velocity and impact. The word ‘murder’ takes on a different meaning when presented as a ‘heinous murder’. The same is true for the word ‘rape’ if presented as ‘brutal rape’. But we cannot forget that words also have the power to heal, mend, lift and restore. This is also the task of a journalist, one that requires greater writing skill.

Articles written for news organisations must be read by the author twice, and in view of two different audiences: the reasonable man and the unreasonable man. It is after reading the piece for the latter audience that necessary corrections and adjustments to text are made. This is the careful copy-edit that looks into the soul of the writer to assure that integrity prevails and human bias and sentimentality do not overshadow otherwise excellent thoughts. The writer who consistently invalidates their craft by seeking to chamber a bullet with excessive passion must be held accountable. They must not easily escape the impact of their words.

Truth should never be obscured from the reader. The truth currently lies bare between our nations, and it is the function of a free press. But there is a greater truth, which must be understood when writing on a level that addresses difficulties between sovereign powers. What cannot be immediately changed must be walked through with endurance and resolve. Nations are bound by treaties and policy and complexities that the average citizen can scarcely grasp. Nations can find themselves within a foreign policy wasteland, which necessitates sustaining a status quo to avoid a greater political instability. So words must be chosen with special care when tackling policy issues in the print media.

The best of journalists are able to speak the truth in a manner that strengthens the weak, anchors the thought and brings comfort and hope to the reader. It is the art of gracious words, a somewhat lost art in the world of print journalism. I am always optimistic. The best writers are out there. They will rise to the top of their game — with the right choice of words.

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