The words that are used to describe a crime scene, a car accident, a public incident, or the reactions of individuals and their behaviors can make a big difference in the way a story is told and understood.
While citizen journalists should try to capture the details of the moment for their readers, they also should be careful in choosing the words they use to describe an event or scene.
A website – AmericanRhetoric.com – provides a great example of two ways a story was told by two different individuals.
Both individuals believed they were telling the “truth.” But what they were telling was the true story as they saw it through their eyes.
They used phrases such as “dangerous tirade,” “in typical fashion,” “wild and theatrical behavior” and “consistent with past heroics” as they described an incident involving former Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman.
Just for fun, go to http://www.americanrhetoric.com/rodmanphase1.htm and do the exercise. Read both versions of the story. Pick out some of the words that you think are a bit slanted. Think of some words you might have used instead.
If nothing else, do as AmericanRhetoric.com asks you to do: “Consider the effect that each version is likely to have on audiences who did not actually witness the event(s), and, who experienced only a single written version.”
Interesting lesson, don’t you think?
Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists (http://nacj.us/) and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).