The G-8 nations will be gathering here in the United States and — Wait! Don’t click over to the cute kittens or the latest pictures of Pippa’s calliypygian charms. This is important stuff! The economic storms still battering Europe, the coming political tensions with a socialist president in France and the continuing chaos in Greece, could all have a major impact on the U.S. economy and — not so incidentally — on the identity of the next American President.
And yet, I can understand why the minute a phrase like “the G-8 nations" pops up, your instinct is to go elsewhere. What’s at issue here is a chronic dilemma in journalism — the “MEGO” dilemma.
What’s “MEGO”? It’s an acronym for “My Eyes Glaze Over.” And it refers to a story that’s “important,” “significant,” “consequential,” but one that immediately induces a sense of disconnection between news provider and news consumer. The eyelids droop; there’s a faint drone in the ear; the words seem to melt off the page or screen. And before you know it, you’re reading a review of “The Avengers” or obsessing over the latest poll numbers from Ohio.
The “MEGO” dilemma is the journalistic equivalent of the nutrition dilemma. You know you’re supposed to eat cruciferous vegetables; you know the deep-dish, sausage-pepperoni double-cheese pizza with cheesy bread on the sign will not be good for you. But put the two items side by side, and for most of us, it’s not a close call.
So what’s a journalistic enterprise to do? Unlike the nutrition arena, we can’t scare you with statistics about the baleful consequences of a bad diet; nor can we show you graphic, stomach-turning pictures of clogged arteries or obesity-triggered ills. (Indeed, on radio, we can’t use graphics at all).
What we can do — and it’s what we try to do on “Money Talking” — is to reach out to journalists with the skill not just to understand an issue like the European economic story, but the skill to tell that story in clear, compelling English. We can avoid jargon like the plague, armed with the belief that, as Orwell argued in “Politics and the English Language,” the "slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” (I’ve found it remarkable that if I hear vaporous, pretentious language and ask simply: “what does that mean?” I often find myself gazing at an emperor with a striking lack of linguistic apparel).
If you catch our “Money Talking” segment on Europe — on the air, on iTunes or on WNYC.org, I invite you to let us know if we’ve kept our promise of clarity. If not, let us know. Just one request: eschew verbiage.