OK, I’m being deliberately controversial there with my headline but when is it OK to use jargon in a media interview? We often find our journalists having this discussion with participants at the start of our Media Training Courses and our Business Writing Courses.
The Telegraph makes great fun last week, of Matt Hancock’s liberal use of managerial jargon, noting his mission to
“To free up, to empower, to harness the mission-driven capability of Team Health and Care”,
“the historic silo between provision of mental health and physical health services.”
The Health Secretary went on:
“The population health approach that is embedded within these integrated care systems will [itself] be at the fulcrum of delivery of health improvement”.
If we were playing buzzword bingo here our buzzers would be going into meltdown.
So can you use jargon in a media interview? By and large, journalists hate management speak or corporate language. As soon as an interviewee mentions “stakeholders,” or starts talking about “developing synergies” we inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) roll our eyes. The NHS, where many of our clients work, is notorious for its “clinical pathways” and “patient outcomes.”
We recently trained a group of doctors who, inevitably during their first round of role-play interviews, kept referring to “local clinical management.” To them, the phrase is as natural as
“I’ll send you an email”
“Do you want a coffee?”
but when we looked at how this wording would come across when talking to local TV or newspapers they began to realise that it was inappropriate.
The fact is that language is dictated by the audience.
Here, the audience of ordinary people, many of them young mothers or elderly people according to the usual local media demographic and therefore very relevant to them, would not understand what they meant. Even if they did, these are not the words and phrases that they would use themselves and so the doctors were quite literally talking a different language – and thereby alienating themselves from the very people they were trying to talk to.
Of course, these phrases – and other examples of NHS jargon – would be fine when the doctors were talking to other healthcare professionals but it’s essential to match your language to the audience. As we say,
“It’s good to use the language people understand but it’s better to use the language they use.”
As soon as we asked the participants for alternatives, they soon came up with plenty of suggestions:
“Ask your doctor,”
“It’s something for you and your GP to decide on.”
If a journalist were writing an article for Health Service Journal or the BMJ “local clinical management,” would be appropriate. If you had to explain every piece of technical language and every acronym it would make meetings painfully slow, your colleagues would feel patronised – and they’d probably think that you’d gone a bit mad.
The point, as we stress in all our business communications courses, media training, business writing and corporate storytelling, is to think about the audience. Journalists particularly hate corporate language when there’s a natural, more easily understandable way to say the same thing.
“Cascading the information,” is just telling people, isn’t it? Isn’t “leveraging” making use of or using or even exploiting?
Journalists might hate jargon and vacuous corporate language but we love being introduced to new buzzwords and phrases. “Selfie,” “Crowdsourcing” and even “Fit For Purpose,” are among the buzzwords that have entered the language – and therefore the media.
If you quote a buzzword then flag it up as such, for example, by saying,
“What we call XYZ,” or “We even have a name for this…”
The other thing about buzzwords that appeal to journalists is that they must be snappy, witty and best of all they must refer to a type of person or activity.
Tribes fascinate journalists. “Hipsters,” “Yuppies,” (remember them?), Millennials and “Generation Y” are all good for us in the media because they’re about people and there’s nothing that journalists writing about more than people. After all, they’re the ones that listen to our radio programmes, watch our TV reports and read our written articles – at least they will if we use the right language.
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