The instantaneous ‘as-it-happens’ world of news reporting is an unpredictable place. Those tickers that run across the bottom of the screen cry out for some real breaking news but most days, it’s pretty dull.
That’s where the poetic licence of the avid reporter comes in handy. When there’s not much going on, you may notice the correspondent likes to fill the air time with vivid descriptions of their surroundings, or recount the previous night’s events with florid similes.
When it comes to the metaphor, it’s now used so much it’s an expected, if sometimes inappropriate, backdrop to any story or news report. The Guardian’s editor recently advised his staff to avoid using military metaphors in political coverage– particularly when there are so many real wars happening outside the UK.
And this style of writing surely blunts any impact when used in its proper context. Are ‘backbench troops’ really ‘on the defensive’? Your average journalist would be stuck if they couldn’t use descriptive words like ‘war’, ‘battle’ or ‘fight’. Elections are ‘battlegrounds’, there’s wars on drugs, obesity and of course, terror.
However when real news does actually happen, like the recent uprising in Egypt, the metaphor becomes strangely redundant. At first, correspondents clearly enjoyed getting creative, from being ‘engulfed in an ocean of protesters’ to observing ‘the war zone in Cairo’. However, the reality soon caught up with the hyperbole as subsequent events spoke for themselves, and reporters got on with what they do best that is – giving it to us straight.