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Retrotalk griping just another example of big media's fracturing audience



Citizenjournalism-ClicheReporter460x276 Author Ralph Keyes wrote a provocative column recently, chiding journalists for using too much Retrotalk.

What's that, you say? It's the habit smart aleck writers like your truly have of inserting cultural references in stories to add meaning in a playful way.

For example, in the Simon Cowell post a few entries earlier, I made a reference to American Idol jumping it's final shark -- a reference to the term for when a TV show introduces a plot twist that makes it plain to all observers that the show is out of creative gas (a reference to classic Happy Days episode in which Fonzie water skied over a shark tank).

Keyes, in a column which also neatly references his new book I Love It When You Talk Retro, says today's journalists use too many old "retrotalk" references that young readers don't understand, and which help make newspaper copy sound dated.

Citizenjournalism-kid His evidence, in part, is news articles which compare political figures to folks from the 1950s sitcom Leave it to Beaver, including casting Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner as a new school Eddie Haskell or saying First Lady Michelle Obama has been "Cleaver-ized."

The column drew lots of comments from writers who noted -- quite correctly -- that such references also are a way of passing cultural knowledge along (I mean, does excluding retrotalk mean excluding Shakespeare and Charles Dickens?) But think there's something else going on, too.

I have this theory that journalists today are caught between three audiences: old school readers who consume stories the traditional way; middle-aged folks who spend increasing amounts of time online but still occasionally turn to print tradition; and young people who aren't reading print much -- if at all -- and are multitasking animals watching a multitude of screens every day.

Gone With.the.Wind So I find myself constantly questioning whether a reference has crossed a tipping point.

Will enough people get a subtle M*A*S*H reference? Or a joke about Gone with the Wind? Or playful references to long-gone technology like TV dials and Betamax video?

I tend to think some obscure references are like little gems in a story -- if you know their meaning or take the time to look them up, it can add flavor to a story.

But are we seek to snare a spreading throng of consumers, we better think harder about the language we use to get our points across.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:57pm]


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