AP announced Tuesday that it is moving to something called New Distinctiveness.
“We're really best in the business at being the fastest and most accurate on breaking news,” Senior Managing Editor Michael Oreskes told the Huffington Post. That’s so 1999, though. Now the AP is moving beyond that — to something Oreskes described in a memo as “Journalism With Voice.”
“We're going to be pushing hard on journalism with voice, with context, with more interpretation,” he wrote. “This does not mean that we’re sacrificing any of our deep commitment to unbiased, fair journalism. It does not mean that we're venturing into opinion, either. It does mean that we need to be looking for ways to be more distinctive and stand out in the field — something our customers need and want. The why and the how of the news are as crucial as the who, what, when and where.”
This sounds like a recipe for disaster — or at least more adverbs, which may boil down to about the same thing.
Voice always reminds me of that line in Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop”: “He's supposed to have a particularly high-class style: ‘Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole’ . . . would that be it?’
“ ‘Yes,’ said the Managing Editor. ‘That must be good style. At least it doesn't sound like anything else to me.’ ”
New Distinctiveness. Journalism With Voice. It’s yet another of the many Indefinable Thingnesses we budding journalists are urged to strive for. Add it to the ever-expanding list, right next to “Build a brand,” and “Tape bacon to cats.”
I’m resigned to this fate. Earlier this week I likened the Higgs Boson to the Kardashians, which tells all you need to know about my level of dignity. But even the AP, last bastion of dry, just-the-facts-ma’am reporting, is getting in on the act now? It's hard to imagine its stories being improved by adding voice.
All my visions of this end in some horrifyingly adverbial pastiche limping across the wires. “FACEBOOK BEAUTEOUSLY ANNOUNCES IPO, INTREPIDLY, AND I FEEL PRETTY GOOD ABOUT IT.”
“Exxon is experiencing rapid growth this quarter, growth like the growth experienced by a young marten who flourishes when cometh the Spring.” Somehow this is how news with voice always manages to sound.
“Obama marks end of Iraq war, an end as ineluctable and inevitable as the progression of nectar through a sieve, yea, as the rarefied tissue of memory through whose semi-porous locks we comb our souls.”
Besides, whose voice?
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that Congress has shot down, for the time being, the Balanced Budget Amendment.”
“Would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes, Time Magazine's person of the year is the protester.”
“National Guard presence at borders is to be reduced to but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets upon the border and then is heard no more — a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
“Satellite gets picture of Chinese troop carrier, beating on against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the Yellow Sea.”
“I am an invisible man. Lindsay Lohan is doing well on probation.”
“Republicans shrug at Romney's business experience.” (That one was Hemingway.)
When news breaks, I want the breaking news, not Fitzgeraldian prose.
But maybe the AP folks know something I don't. They generally do — first and better. I just hope they watch the adverbs.