Two-Way Street

Fighting the Jargon Creep


Every journalism professor and crusty news editor will tell reporters to avoid jargon. Nevertheless those technical words and phrases tend to creep in, particularly in business journalism.

Witness "quantitative easing," the term used to describe the Fed's purchases of various securities as way of kickstarting demand and boosting the economy. To me it's more like "quantitative buying" ... critics use a simpler term still: printing money. Nevertheless, "quantitative easing" is what's taken hold in text and airwaves.

Such jargon creep is common in beat reporting or specialty reporting. Reporters and editors are dealing with sources who use specialized language all the time. So the journalists begin to adopt it — you don't want to sound like you don't know what your talking about to a source, after all.

But many times journalists forget when they are talking to a source and when they are talking to their audience. That's unfortunate, since the journalistic mission is to explain complicated and serious subjects in a way that most people understand. (Of course, there's the opposing danger of "dumbing down" material, but that's another blogpost).

Occasional use of jargon can be okay as long as you explain it. Unfortunately, as the use of a particular piece of jargon becomes more common, the explanation gets dropped. Internet journalism has an advantage in this respect: You can at least provide a link leading to an explanation of the term at hand. (Here's mine, BTW).

Yes, there will be cases where we'll forget. But we'll try.