By Abigail Cipparone
On Friday afternoon, a smattering of linguistics academics and undergrads crowded into HGS 211 to hear Chloe Angyal (pronounced “Angel”) of the Huffington Post give advice on how to deal with journalists. As a journalist herself, Angyal did not hesitate to mock the quintessentially stressed out, cigarette-smoking reporter. She scoffs at reporters who ask inane questions on academic topics about which they know little. But Angyal also gave perspective on how incredibly difficult it is to report on academia. Faced with brutal deadlines, lack of sleep, and a need for ad visibility, many journalists oversimplify the loquacious and intellectual talk professors and grad students spew. Angyal emphasized the need for information that seizes the public’s eye, and is applicable to their lives.
Angyal claimed that there are really only three pieces of information the reporter wants in a good, 10 minute interview. First, the reporter wants to know “What’s the newest finding in the field?” Second, the need for background. “What findings came before this?” Finally, the journalist wants to know “Why does this matter?” or “How will this affect normal, everyday lives?” The bevy of academics in the room struggled on this question. Professors and Graduate students focus on the minutiae of a topic. They barely ever need to refer to the outer world. One grad student claimed, “I feel like I’m falling down the small section of the hourglass. I’m just focusing in smaller and smaller.” How can he and others broaden their tiny part of a huge system of research?
As a PHD holder, Angyal connected with the many perplexed individuals in the room. Angyal said that everyone struggles with the purpose of their work. Everyone works to achieve a higher goal, such as freedom, or justice, or awareness. But, Angyal affirms, no one thinks, “Well, today I am going out to solve freedom.” Each piece of research plays a key role in building a body of knowledge that impacts society in some huge, abstract way. This impact is what really matters to the general audience.
Angyal wasn’t content to stand and lecture her audience. She instead created a mock interview: a sort of practice under pressure. Easily acting the role of a stressed, overworked reporter, Angyal “called” people from across the table to interview them on their most recent finding. Some performed better than others. One man picked up the telephone and felt too harried by the slightly ignorant, slightly off topic questions of a mediocre reporter role-played by Angyal, to say much of anything. Many recalled nightmare interviews where that same situation occurred. Only a few withstood the faux reporter.
One academic responded to the “what’s new” question by asserting that the Russian language borrows words from the Scandinavian language in order to fulfill vowel harmony. She went on to explain that vowel harmony is when a vowel is added if a word that naturally ends in a consonant. Before, vowel harmony was thought to be only part of the vernacular of certain unrelated languages. When the reporter interrupted with “So what does this mean for the future of vowels?” the linguist politely said “That is an interesting question. I’ll talk about it later”. She continued to say that now, vowel harmony is proven to borrow from other languages. This finding shows that it is possible for humans to communicate across language gaps. This style of reporting research was succinct, and simple.
As the reporter in the room, I sat aside, watching as the entire room was interviewed and exempting myself from the entire process. I think I cheated the system. So here I go: let me use this form to report on my last finding: this same forum.
So “What’s New?”
Chloe Angyal from the Huffington Post came and spoke about journalism to a crowd of linguists and a smattering of undergrads this Friday.
“What came before?”
Chloe Angyal received her PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. She is now a senior front-page editor of the Huffington Post, and is an active feminist.
“Why does this matter?”
This talk showed journalism in a new light. I spoke to a PhD candidate, Jason Zentz, on his impressions of the talk. Zentz said “Before we criticize reporters, we need to step back and ask ourselves: Did we deliver our information in the clearest way possible?” He noted that Angyal’s talk emphasized the audience reading the article really matters. “(It is) important to think carefully about how to promote our research…. (we) need to put a (certain) spin on it.” Zentz said.
Abigail Cipparone is a freshman in Berkeley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.