Randy Michaels memo will be tough for WGN staffers


In Chicago Public Radio’s Vocalo.org, Robert Feder reports Tribune CEO Randy Michaels issued a list of 119 words and phrases that must never be uttered by anchors or reporters on WGN-AM (720), the news/talk radio station located five floors below his office in Tribune Tower. Said Feder:

Believe me, I’m not making this up.
WGN news director Charlie Meyerson, good soldier that he is, passed on what he identified as Michaels’ “list of forbidden ‘newsspeak’ words and phrases” in a memo to his staff Monday, with the explicit warning: “Don’t say them on WGN.”

Meyerson, a veteran Chicago newsman, has long championed the idea of delivering the news in a down-to-earth, conversational manner. That’s all well and good. As Meyerson explained in his memo:

“The real goal here is to avoid using words that make you sound like you’re reading, instead of talking — that shatter the image you’re speaking knowledgeably to one person. By not using ‘newsspeak,’ you enhance your reputation as a communicator.”

But Meyerson takes it a step further, directing his staff to keep tabs on each other’s compliance: They’re to report any on-air infractions by their co-workers, making sure to note the precise time and date on “bingo cards” he provided that contain a random assortment of Michaels’ forbidden words. If you ask me, that’s just plain creepy.

What’s even more disturbing is that the CEO of a major institution would engage in such petty and insulting micromanaging of subordinates. Here, without further ado, is Randy Michaels’ complete list of unacceptable expressions on the Tribune Co.’s flagship radio station:

■“Flee” meaning “run away”
■“Good” or “bad” news
■“Laud” meaning “praise”
■“Seek” meaning “look for”
■“Some” meaning “about”
■“Two to one margin” . . . “Two to one” is a ratio, not a margin. A margin is measured in points. It’s not a ratio.
■“Yesterday” in a lead sentence
■“Youth” meaning “child”
■5 a.m. in the morning
■After the break
■After these commercial messages
■All of you
■Area residents
■As expected
■At risk
■At this point in time
■Auto accident
■Bare naked
■Behind bars
■Behind closed doors
■Behind the podium (you mean lecturn) [sic]
■Best kept secret
■Campaign trail
■Clash with police
■Close proximity
■Complete surprise
■Completely destroyed, completely abolished, completely finished or any other completely redundant use
■Death toll
■Definitely possible
■Down in (location)
■Down there
■Dubbaya when you mean double you
■Everybody (when referring to the audience)
■Eye Rack or Eye Ran
■False pretenses
■Fatal death
■Fled on foot
■Giving 110%
■Going forward
■Gunman, especially lone gunman
■Hunnert when you mean hundred
■In a surprise move
■In harm’s way
■In other news
■In the wake of (unless it’s a boating story)
■Informed sources say . . .
■Killing spree
■Lend a helping hand
■Lucky to be alive
■Medical hospital
■Mother of all (anything)
■Mute point. (It’s moot point, but don’t say that either)
■Near miss
■No brainer
■Our top story tonight
■Out in (location)
■Out there
■Over in
■Perfect storm
■Senseless murder
■Shots rang out
■Shower activity
■Sketchy details
■Some (meaning about)
■Some of you
■Sources say . . .
■Speaking out
■Stay tuned
■The fact of the matter
■Those of you
■Time for a break
■To be fair
■Torrential rain
■Touch base
■Under fire
■Under siege
■Underwent surgery
■Undocumented alien
■Untimely death
■Up in (location)
■Up there
■Utilize (you mean use)
■We’ll be right back
■Welcome back
■Welcome back everybody
■We’ll be back
■Went terribly wrong
■We’re back
■White stuff
■World class
■You folks

Randy responded to the article by telling RBR-TVBR: “I feel sorry for Bob.  If he thinks it’s wrong for the CEO of a content company to focus on content, that could help explain why he is no longer paid to be in media.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Hey, some of these are pretty much good advice to a news team, but 119 is a bit over the top. It’s almost like asking someone to speak without using vowels! But for the record RBR-TVBR would like to add this one to the list: ‘At the End of the Day!’

RBR-TVBR NOTE: 3/12/10 After we got comment from Tribune CEO Randy Michaels regarding an issue Robert Feder from Chicago Public Radio’s Vocalo.org brought up, Feder has fired back.
Read: Robert Feder blasts back at Randy Michaels