"Articles" on the NPR news shows have a format that can become irritating or amusing if it rises to your notice. The people who formulate the presentation have fallen into certain patterns. One pattern solves the problem of transition to a new article, by having the "anchor" read a sort of headline, and then introduce the recorded report:

Since man learned to use his elbow, the scourge of prickly heat has had only one remedy: scratching. But now a man working in a garage has found a new answer. Don Gonyay reports from Detroit:

Another problem also involves transitions, this time, between the reporter's spoken words, and a recorded quotation. Apparently, the NPR mandarins found it awkward to say something like "Joe Sixpack, noted bowler, commented as follows:", and instead, came up with the following solution:

Joe Sixpack is a noted bowler:
a statement that seems ludicrous until it is followed by a quote, presumably from Joe Sixpack. Once we've learned this convention, we don't even notice it. But we ought to.

But the item that concerns me at this point is the "tagline". Again, as a way of delimiting the end of the article, the reporter is required to supply a final statement. Apparently, reporters are paid by how snappy a line they can write, because they try hard to avoid simply stating the facts, and then lamely saying

This is Eric Pinhead reporting from Grover's Mills, New Jersey.

The reporter may still identify himself at the end of the article, but if there is a suitable "tagline" preceding it, that will mark the end of the article in a psychologically satisfying way. Thus, Eric Pinhead's article might end with

Local authorities fear that the death toll will continue to rise.

This particular quote, in fact, is the bit of stringy meat that has caught between my teeth this morning! Let's leave aside the "death toll" cliche (although that's worth a laugh by itself). And let's even ignore the fact that death tolls have a tendency to rise, whether or not a radio reporter tells us that. (I'm waiting impatiently for the day when a reporter can tell us "The death toll continues to drop"!) There's something about the form of that tagline that appeals to a radio reporter in need. To try to find out what that is, or at least to have a laugh in the process, I'll trot out some taglines that strike me from time to time.

Of course, NPR didn't start it, by any means. A friend wrote to me, complaining about a TV teaser that ran

Next: What the Washington DC sniper tells us about YOU!";
I immediately recalled my own emetic reaction to a headline that ran
What Ancient Egyptian Mummies Reveal About Us
To begin with, these are vapid phrases, meant to cover up the fact that the real headline ought to be the less appealing
Boring Professors Have More to Say About Ancient Egyptian Mummies
but the other sad thing to note is how much, much more interesting the headline becomes when the newsmangler makes it sound as though it's about us. The joke is finished when I recall (not verbatim!) a Monty Python bit that ran on:
...and that concludes the news for Wombats. Now the news for Parrots. There was a 14 car collision on the highway today. No parrots were harmed.

Last modified on 29 December 2007.