Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Using "Tragedy"

Some Explaining...

On the weekend I wrote a post making light of the Toronto Star's use of the word "tragedy" when the paper reported on the death of three people in a car accident in Muskoka. Included in the post was a joke about the accident getting more attention had there been a pet dog who died in the crash. After I posted, some anonymous coward left a comment that convinced me (much too easily) that keeping the post live wasn't worth my time. I deleted it.

Today the Star published another story reporting that the three people who died in the crash had disobeyed traffic laws in the past and the driver "was in danger of losing his license." Interesting that this was the Star's first story on the accident where the word "tragedy" was absent. Perhaps the reporters have finally decided to use some restraint when reporting; it's not their job to editorialize and use of the word "tragedy" is an expression of opinion.

For the families of the dead and the survivor, an accident like this is horrible but hardly a tragedy, which is something unforeseen. A pattern of broken traffic laws? Drinking before driving? Close to losing a license? This accident sounds more like an inevitability.

Before the Star slapped together the "Muskoka tragedy" headline, the last use I saw of the word "tragedy" in the paper referred to the Greek national team being eliminated from the Euro 2008 tournament. That headline also ran on the front page. How the death of three people can be equated with a soccer team being eliminated from a tournament I can't say: that's a question for the Star's loose editors.

I stand by my original assertion that the accident in Muskoka wasn't a tragedy. It's a horrible event, but bad decisions rarely end in a good consequences.



Andrew said...

A drama or literary work in which the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a consequence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances.

Usually the word "tragedy" is misused as short form for "really bad thing that happened." In this case, though, the Star's description of this event as a tragedy is bang on.

Czobit said...

If a Star columnist used the word or had "tragedy" appeared in an editorial, then I would have no problem. But using it is an expression of opinion that a reporter should not make.

Get someone to say it in your story; don't write it yourself.

And beyond that, "tragedy" has been misused to that point it is meaningless. It's a cliché in journalism because of reporters and editors who take little care in the words they use.

Jenn Jilks said...

I just saw this post. I agree. It is much more complicated. Many journalists are edging back over to editorial in reporting news.

This is a self-inflicted wound on the part of those who are dead. There are many responsible for it, too.