Garry Trudeau‘s Doonesbury comic strip on Sunday was aimed squarely at the evening news. And one newscast in particular.
For more than a year, since before David Muir took over as anchor of World News Tonight, the broadcast has changed its writing style to convey more urgency.
This often leads to incomplete sentences and overuse of the present participle–struggling, waiting, flickering, hoping. It also leads to the elimination of the verb “to be,” in all its forms. Also you’ll hear phrases like “right there” and “look at this.” This style has been a fixture of Shepard Smith‘s show for years. But it has news purists up in arms (to borrow an oft-used TV news cliche).
“Writers who pepper their copy with participles seem to think they’re making their copy strong. In fact, they’re making it weak. Or even meaningless,” said Mervin Block, who is a past staff writer for the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and the ABC Evening News with Frank Reynolds.
“Strong scripts lie in the use of strong verbs: hit, stole, struck, walked, talked, stalked, trashed, bashed, crashed, smashed–all of them finite verbs, verbs with a tense. But participles, which so many would-be writers rely on, are adjectives or adverbs created from verbs. But they’re not verbs,” Block told TVNewser. “The ing thing, as I call it, is unnatural, unjournalistic, ungrammatical, and unjustifiable.”
Here’s how Doonesbury sees it: