Write for the fool in the audience.
When I shifted from Engineering to take up Communication Arts, I was struck by my professor’s mantra, uttered at least three times in the first class I attended.
I fled my old course because I could not make sense of circuitry. Thus, this anthem to simplicity resuscitated me, turned me into a new convert of my adopted course.
Nearly three decades after, I believe this is a rule that still doesn’t need reinvention.
Look for the least common denominator. Reduce to the simplest terms. If there is a shorter word, use this. Write to be understood.
And should these instructions, culled from elementary Math to news writing, be not clear enough, there is always the graffiti-raw truth of KISS: keep it short, stupid.
This precept, though, is prone to be misunderstood or manipulated. When my professor prefaced a lecture on broadcast writing with her favorite line, she meant that we should make ourselves as clear as possible in order not to be misunderstood.
She didn’t mean, look down on the listener or the reader.
She didn’t direct, pander to the lowest instincts.
And she certainly didn’t send us off to connect with our audiences and create a mutual admiration society of simpletons.
But, despite the best mentors and the best intentions, simple sometimes slides into the simplistic.
After a woman was recently tortured and killed by a man she met through a radio dating program, local radio stations volunteered to stop broadcasting the mobile phone numbers of listeners looking for friends, which often led to “eyeballing,” slang for face-to-face encounters between strangers who initially met through on-air chats and texting.
According to the Jan. 31 report of Sun.Star Cebu, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP)-Cebu Chapter left it to member-stations to decide on the fate of their dating programs but reiterated the media’s social responsibility to “evaluate the values” of its programs and avoid “(being) part of a crime.”
Let’s hope it’s not just cold feet that led to the axing of the radio dating programs. If the sentiment on media responsibility is really authentic, KBP members should take a cue from a station that said the pulled-out format will be replaced with a talk show concept they had long waited to pilot.
Then again, it’s disquieting to realize only two things might induce media gods to change format: falling ratings or a corpse.
Lest we slip into an orgy of breast-beating, we might also evaluate some of the recommendations waved around after the discovery of the gruesome crime.
One is for a station to issue disclaimers.
Will you trust more a station that gets a carefully modulated voice to read this disclaimer before an online dating program: “This station neither confirms nor denies that some callers on the show may not be issued a clean bill of mental health. Any actual consequence arising from this program should be judged against the program’s intention of providing only entertainment and enjoyment for all. We emphasize the importance of keeping an open mind while announcing on air your mobile phone number to no one in particular and everyone within range of our transmitter station. Relax and enjoy.”
To be fair, simplemindedness is not a media franchise.
But I don’t think it’s of much use for a program host to remind listeners to “take precautions” before meeting up. If you have to follow a format that invites strangers to swap intimacies on public air space, what beneficial advice can you possibly give when they segue to eyeballing each other? If you can’t be good, bring a condom?
Then again, that might be a good idea. A condom shields you from some sexually transmitted infections.
A church official has rued the immorality of courting by radio or text. “You have to see the person, when you are just texting you can easily lie.”
But that’s just it, monsignor. That’s what got them into eyeballing. Like today’s young and the restless, my aunt also seriously tested a gadget before buying it. I’m not sure, though, if that’s a sound disclaimer to post before a dating program.
You could bring home a psycho.
* Published as “Matamata” column in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 1, 2009 issue.