When the slang becomes the story

When the slang becomes the story

It was the first day of graduate journalism school at Northwestern University, when the professor set us all straight.

“It’s not filming,” he said. “TV news stopped using film years ago.”

We all knew that. In the '70s, local television news departments switched from cumbersome and slow film cameras to video, which was fast and easier.

“It’s called video shooting now,” the professor said, using the shorthand ENG, which stands for electronic news gathering.

At the start of my career, I fought the tendency to say things the old way. Only viewers and some bystanders on the street said “filming.” We people in the business said “shooting” when describing that work we did with a crew covering stories, be they happy parades or occasional gun violence and everything in between.

It’s time, now, to find a different word for the work we do. “Shooting” just feels wrong.

For several weeks I’ve been working on a documentary about women and the opioid crisis for WQED-TV, a project that has taken me and a photographer all over Washington and Allegheny counties. Each appointment has started with an email or phone call to set up an interview; several times I’ve found myself writing the words “we will be shooting in your area next week,” and then deleting the line. On the phone, I’d stop in the middle of a sentence.

This week, especially, that sword hangs in the middle of the sentence like a taunt. Too often now, “shooting” means not that thing we journalists do to tell the story but the story itself. The lexicon of the news business didn’t really bother me until earlier this year, when I was producing a documentary about the history of African-American churches in our area. During the course of the production, while explaining my schedule to my family, I said the following.

“We will be shooting at some black churches next weekend.”

As soon as the words passed my lips I knew they were all wrong. A time when black church members are gunned down at Bible study – and in a week when hundreds are gunned down at an outdoor concert – calls for some new words for journalists to describe what they do.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at cootiej@aol.com.