On Wednesday, WBEZ media columnist Robert Feder published an internal memo from Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels that listed 119 words WGN employees weren't allowed to say on air.
The "list of forbidden 'newsspeak' words and phrases" was comprised of words Michaels disliked, along with basic no-nos such as redundancies and jargon. The memo read:
"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."
The memo also asks employees to report any on-air infractions by their co-workers and "making sure to note the precise time and date on "bingo cards" he provided that contain a random assortment of Michaels' forbidden words."
Feder--along with many online commenters--criticized Michaels' list, Feder calling it "just plain creepy" as well as "petty and insulting."
Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn asked Michaels to respond to the "kerfuffle" caused by his banned words list--and Michaels ripped Feder. Michaels wrote:
"...The "kerfuffle" is a bit bewildering. Most news organizations have a style book, and the suggestions on that list are pretty basic.
It is surprising that some believe that the CEO of a content company should not be concerned about content.
As for where the list came from, it clearly came from WGN radio since it had Charlie's perhaps unfortunate introduction. It was compiled by a few people after the News Directors meeting. The same list went to all of the TV news directors without public reaction. Someone who works at WGN must think sending internal memos to an out of work blogger who doesn't like us is OK. That part is the most disappointing.
On Friday, Feder accused Michaels of shooting the messenger, and pointed out that just because he no longer works for a newspaper does not mean he is "out of work." Feder wrote:
Michaels' response is irksome for two reasons: First, it falsely assumes that I think a CEO shouldn't "focus on content." No, I just believe the arrogant and heavy-handed way he went about it was wrong. And second, to say that I am "no longer paid to be in media" is completely and utterly false.
More troubling, though, is the inference that Michaels believes all bloggers are unpaid hobbyists who aren't really "in media," as he defines it. In case he doesn't know it, online professional journalism happens to be the future of media.
Is a Tribune versus Bloggers Everywhere battle in the works? Or has it already started?
Find the full list of Michaels' banned words here.