Mortal coil

Mark Memmott has one of the most important jobs in our newsroom: he’s the designated noodge who makes sure that we get our facts right (as ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen details) and our language unvarnished and clear. He quotes Rick Holter from member station KERA on avoiding euphemisms for death:

“Any time you use one of those euphemisms on air or online (except in a direct quote) to ease the pain of the family or respect the person, you’re basically saying this death is different from others; it could be heard or read as this person’s death is more sensitive or valuable than others.

“We shouldn’t be making those judgments.

“Also, we follow Associated Press style, which is unequivocal about this:

“‘Don’t use euphemisms like passed on or passed away except in a direct quote.’

“So remember: People die. And we respect all those deaths equally.”

Thank you, Mark, for keeping us in line.


How wonderful to come across a cite of one of our stories from 2006, ‘Adventure Playgrounds’ a Dying Breed in the U.S., by Kristin Wiederholt for KALW, about a Berkeley playground where kids bang together play forts from scavenged nails and scrap lumber, in one of the texts I’m recording for Learning Ally, Julie Bullard, Creating Environments for Learning: Birth to Age Eight, 3/e (2017). (Inside baseball note: This NPR story is so old [in the digital domain], it doesn’t follow our copy editing stylebook that all words in the title are to be capitalized.)

On the radio: 7

Stacey tapped me for a bit of a challenge: voiceovers for five audio clips (at NPR we call them “actualities”) from Zhou Youguang, to be part of Louisa Lim’s profile of him for today’s All Things Considered. Zhou headed up the committee that devised the pinyin system, thereby reforming the Roman transcription of Chinese characters. Stacey asked for an older man’s voice, seeing as how Zhou is 50 years older than me (his spelling system was published when I was two years old). Older, but spry and mirthful. I hope I gave her what she was looking for; in any event, the completed piece sounds like magic.

I think this is the only time that I will voiceover someone who has his own Wikipedia article. I am deeply honored to have worked on the story.

On the radio: 6

Stacey asked me to do a voiceover for the first part of Jason Beaubien’s three-part report on the harrowing journey that Central American migrants make across Mexico, so they can then cross (illegally) into the United States to find family and work. I voiced the worker Hector Valdez, who is remarkably low-key about the prospect of being kidnapped by gangsters; he’s introduced at 2:00. And who’s that we hear near the end of segment? Stacey herself!

The entire series is worth a listen (part two, part three), as well as Beaubien’s reporter’s notebook post:

I’d dozed off on what the local media have dubbed “the Highway of Death.” I jerk awake and immediately feel for my backpack on the floor of the bus. My bag is still there.

The bus has come to a sudden stop and several young men are coming up the front stairs. A few weeks earlier, hijackers, allegedly from the Zetas cartel, had been boarding buses on this road, pulling off migrants, bashing their heads in with blunt instruments and dumping them in mass graves.

The young men are yelling and for a second I’m trying to make out what language it is. This often happens to me when I’m traveling. I wake up on an airplane, I look up from a cup of coffee in a restaurant and I have no idea where I am.

It’s Spanish. They’re speaking Spanish and they’re selling snacks. Everything is OK. I fumble in my pocket for some coins to buy one of the sandwiches wrapped in foil that they promise are very hot and very tasty.