Sunday 20 February 2011

Not today, thank you... or tomorrow or last night

Interesting post on the Guardian's MindYourLanguage blog about why it has dropped the journalistic habit of putting "today", "tomorrow", "yesterday", "tonight" into stories on the website.

Guardian production editor David Marsh writes: "It used to be quite simple. If you worked for an evening newspaper, you put 'today' near the beginning of every story in an attempt to give the impression of being up-to-the-minute – even though many of the stories had been written the day before (as those lovely people who own local newspapers strove to increase their profits by cutting editions and moving deadlines ever earlier in the day).

"If you worked for a morning newspaper, you put 'last night' at the beginning: the assumption was that reading your paper was the first thing that everyone did, the moment they awoke, and you wanted them to think that you had been slaving all night on their behalf to bring them the absolute latest news. A report that might have been written at, say, 3pm the previous day would still start something like this: 'The government last night announced ...' "

Marsh says this has all changed for online readers. "We now have many millions of readers around the world, for whom the use of yesterday, today and tomorrow must be at best confusing and at times downright misleading...Even in the UK, online readers may visit the website at any time, using a variety of devices, as the old, predictable pattern of newspaper readership has changed for ever. A story may be read within seconds of publication, or months later – long after the newspaper has been composted.

"So our new policy, adopted last week (wherever you are in the world), is to omit time references such as last night, yesterday, today, tonight and tomorrow from stories."

As for the newspaper? Marsh adds: "In contrast to the web, 'today' is highly desirable for newspaper reports, making them sound topical and helping set the day's news agenda. But standard morning paper stories that begin, dispiritingly, 'the government last night faced criticism of its NHS reforms ...' or the lumpen '... it emerged last night' date from a time when news was read at the breakfast table and 'last night' sounded reasonably current. This is no longer the case. We need to explore new ways of reporting that avoid churning out such cliches."

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