Sunday, November 1, 2009


fact \ˈfakt\

Function: noun

A thing done.

The quality of being actual; something that has actual existence.

A piece of information presented as having objective reality.

opin·ion \ə-ˈpin-yən\

Function: noun

A view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter: a generally held view.

ob·jec·tive \əb-ˈjek-tiv, äb-\

Function: adjective

Expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.

My name is Laura Bynum. I’m a writer. I have a couple of degrees in Communications, try to listen to the BBC News or NPR at least three times a week. I love Guinness, watching inappropriately scary movies every Sunday morning with my children, and authenticity. I’m getting the definitions I will list at the beginning of each Word Watch primarily from or and will do my damnedest to be objective and keep my personal opinions and political leanings out of things. That’s all you really need to know about me, and not much of it’s pertinent. But now, for what is - the purpose of this weekly blog.

I created Word Watch because we need to get educated about our language diet. Like reading the ingredients list on a package of junk food, we need to know what we’re consuming. How much invective are we getting with each bite? How much news? How many attempts at persuasion are packed into each delicious morsel? Conversely, we need to know what we’re trying to feed others.

Helping to boost awareness is my intention. Raising the flag for the active ingestion of truth. I invite you to follow me as I search out opinions masquerading as facts and words that have been used not because of what they actually mean but because of how they make us feel, need, hate, crave, and the list goes on. There is a brave new world out there, one in which you, the word eater, can have a say in that which you ingest. Below are a few tools that have helped me down this lesser trod path.

Truth. We take in the world in a linear, time-delimited fashion so the question arises: is truth really an instantly observable thing? Something you can consume all at once? One example is how we consume story. With a book, we have to sit down and begin at page one, then go to page two, and so on. We’re not really, one-hundred percent ready to give a full review of that book until we’re at The End. There have been novels I’ve HATED and then on page 474, some mind-altering, revelatory thing happens and it becomes one of my favorites. Same goes for movies.

Then there are perception issues to consider. We might be three dimensional characters, but we see only in two and let our brains make up the difference. For example, here’s a made-up woman named Judy sitting in front of me. I can’t see the back of Judy’s head but I know it’s there because she’s still breathing and has not gone limp. But ask me what the back of Judy’s head looks like and I’m at a loss.

Opinion. A couple of decades ago, I nearly failed an assignment in a journalism class for using too many adjectives. Terrible, leading adjectives like blonde and wavering. I wonder what that professor must think of news as it’s delivered today.

The insertion of opinion into some of our modern news blows my mind. It’s become the rule instead of the exception - something we’ve allowed to happen. Maybe it’s because we got too lazy to demand a more sober and honorable form of journalism. Or maybe it’s because we’d prefer to cherry-pick truth, honing in on whatever keeps us in our comfort zone.

(Though we really shouldn’t need them...) Here are a few questions to consider while consuming news. 1) Are the commentators rolling their eyes? Crying? Screaming? Generally acting enraged? 2) Have they assigned sides, for example, those who are with them and those who are against them? 3) Is what’s being covered really news?

Objective. Right after I had my twin daughters, I decided I needed to know more about what I espoused myself to be. So I read the tomes that defined these descriptors, including The Idiot’s Guide to the American Government and The Bible. Then I went one step further and did research into world religions and political issues. For the first time in my life, I felt able to have an objective discussion about my religious preferences and at least a few political issues. If something smelled of hate or tasted like agenda, I got online and did some research. If I realized I was needing to hear good or bad about some person, place, or thing, I realized I’d fallen off the wagon. Remaining objective, for me, is a constant but important battle.

To sum, complex situations and events can never be fully or rationally described in a ten-second sound bite or a byline but these are the byproducts of living in such a fast-paced, globalized world. Very rarely are we word eaters ever getting the whole enchilada. Opinions are being formed from other opinions. Facts are the products of long observation and voluminous research and, frankly, take a long damned time to get to. So can they ever be communicated effectively or objectively? Probably not. And, even if we decided to put more money into the research components of news organizations, would we take the time to appreciate it? I don’t know. Some day, I like to think so. Until then, what do we do?

I say go ahead and commit to the idea that, yes, Judy does indeed have a back part of her head. But if people start telling you she’s shaved a gang sign into her bob, get up out of your chair and go see for yourself.

1 comment:

  1. I subscribed to your blog after hearing you this morning on the Corner. I've added Veracity to my Amazon wishlist. Any plans to do a local book-signing?