Off-brand

31 Mar

At the Tribune, as we’ve discussed, we allow the US newsroom to write about Thursday ousters and the Australian newsroom to write about docos being spruiked, while the London office is exempted from calling football “soccer“. We “honour the writer’s voice” in each jurisdiction, so as not to foist an alien dialect of English on our intended audiences on different continents. If that means that, say, British readers are baffled by the phrase “spill vote” in an article written for Sydneysiders, then so be it. That has been always been the policy – or it was until we published a piece on the coronavirus paracetamol/ibuprofen controversy, and this email came round:

Now, I appreciate that there’s a war on, and that this may not be a harbinger of the future. But it is instructive that, when a story really matters – when it tramples across national boundaries, as the biggest stories always do – the writer’s-voice policy starts to wobble. You might argue that if the story has already been read half a million times in the US, then readers have successfully translated it for themselves, as they usually appear to do with international celebrity news. We’ve always held that line previously: that the domestic audience for each of the three newsrooms must not be offended by use of language that speaks first to another market.

But lives are at stake now, and in the bewildering blizzard of news about the pandemic, the thought of further confusion being caused by the separations in our common language is hard to bear. If only we could report the news so that everyone who read it could understand it equally quickly. Sadly, however, although we have a global crisis, we still don’t have a global English.

4 Responses to “Off-brand”

  1. Picky April 2, 2020 at 11:11 am #

    And I see today’s online headline from your sister about sparrows re-appearing in “British yards” has now been corrected to the local vernacular “British gardens”.

    • edlatham April 2, 2020 at 4:24 pm #

      Ah, a classic ‘overseas newsroom helpfully writes overnight story for home newsroom’ moment

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