Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Future of News Cliches 'Remains To Be Seen'

While news organizations struggle to adapt to historic changes in their business, especially in the face of ground-breaking new technologies, this blog has learned that news cliches are alive and well -- and possibly more important than ever.

Among this journalist's least favorite news cliches: "remains to be seen."

That one is a trusty standby, especially among sports writers. Will James van Riemsdyk of the Philly Flyers find out if he's "aggressive enough to make a real impact on NHL games?" Will the four new crew members on Michael Waltrip Racing team make a difference? Will Tigers pitcher Phil Hughes's fastball survive an injury, "even if he returns as expected in six to eight weeks?"

The answers to these and many other questions on our sports pages "remain to be seen."

But sports journalists aren't the only ones who depend on this phrase like their morning cup of coffee. It also pops up in the work of those who write about science and technology -- journalists whose very beats are uncertainty.

A quick scan through some random recent science and tech stories finds that much in fact "remains to be seen."

Take a topic like energy: CNET wonders how people will use "smart grid" technology to monitor their home energy consumption.
"While home energy management will become de rigueur, which tools people choose to use to do that, whether it be a wall dashboard in the home or one's smartphone, remains to be seen."
An article in Pakistan's Daily Times quotes one energy expert, who says "the key thing" that China can "bring to the world is lower costs" for power derived from nuclear fission. Adds the newspaper:
"Whether China can eventually do the same for fusion remains to be seen."
The Chicago Tribune considers another alliterative energy source: electric cars:
"Rising gasoline prices could tip the economic equation in favor of an emerging electric vehicle market. But whether those prices remain high long enough to drive consumers to the technology in large numbers remains to be seen."
In a related story, Reuters looks at emerging technologies for charging those electric cars without obtrusive power cords:
"The electric car market is so new that whether consumers will have to pay a premium for wireless charging remains to be seen."
One vehicle that operates without power chords is the space shuttle. And the approaching end of the shuttle program gave Sunshine State News a chance to review possible directions for human spaceflight, including commercially developed and operated alternatives to NASA's retiring shuttle fleet:
"Whether commercial craft will prove more durable and cost-efficient [than the space shuttle] remains to be seen."
Meanwhile, National Defense magazine points out that the Pentagon has been tinkering with a new space vehicle of its own, the X-37A:
"With budget pressures being one of the main topics of discussion at the conference, and the cost of each X-37B mission probably well more than $200 million, it remains to be seen whether the Air Force's reusable space plane is destined for more missions, or a spot in an air and space museum along with its older and larger predecessor, the space shuttle."
If we don't eventually see the X-37B in a museum, we'll surely read about it someday in a book -- or at least in a book-like device and app. But if the future of space travel is uncertain, the future of books is even more so. A Los Angeles Times blog post on the e-book business asks whether the cost-benefit analysis for publishers will be different from book to book and format to format:
"Exactly how the balance between print and digital will play out -- whether it will vary by genre, have greater impact on hardcovers or paperbacks, and whether there are other variables that may affect e-book-versus-print sales -- remains to be seen."
AdWeek also ran a recent item about an book-like online publishing service called Push Pop Press. The story ended by focusing on the development and design costs of customizing content for such highly interactive reading experiences:
"Reinventing content for iPads and Android-driven devices makes monetary sense for newspapers and magazines that can charge advertisers larger sums than online publication. But the clear path to increased revenues for publishers remains to be seen."
In fact, the path ahead is as dark and mysterious for device makers as it is for content producers. CIO Insight makes that point in a story about how Blackberry-maker Research in Motion "is trying to strike a delicate balance" with new gizmos that appeal both to business and consumer users:
"It remains to be seen whether RIM -- whose recently introduced Playbook tablet has to play catch-up to Apple's iPad and compete with a slew of other tablet contenders -- can pull this off."
And then there's the always unsettled social media business. CNN reports that Maria Sharapova and other sports celebrities are trying to convert their real-world popularity into online stardom. But. . .
"It remains to be seen whether social media can be harnessed as a separate revenue source."
The travel industry thinks there's gold in them social media hills, too. USA Today notes that Omni Hotels is now allowing guests to directly book rooms on the company's Facebook page:
"Whether this is a hit or not with travelers remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: It's a timely innovation."
Thank goodness one thing was clear, at least in that story. Because nothing was clear at all when I found this passage in an Information Week article about the "Internet-wide transition from Internet protocol version 4 (IPv4) to IPv6":
"Because of this, a mass migration to IPv6 is expected to occur over the next few years, as organizations must update and transition to the new 128-bit IP. However, it remains to be seen if IT departments use IPAM tools like the Infoblox DDI products, or perform the migration manually."
I've said that many times.

With so much flux, change and upheaval in the world, it's somewhat comforting that such a dependable old phrase can stand the test of time. But will "remain to be seen" continue to have a place in the increasingly fast-moving world of digitized news copy? It's probably too soon to say.

Perhaps the matrix of compounding global complexity will make this particular editorial cliche more useful than ever. But for now, the answer remains to be seen.

(Crystal ball image above via iStockphoto.)

1 comment:

Roy Bragg said...

There are buttloads of news writing cliches. Spy magazine used to write these types of stories every few months. I remember the one about "(the defendant) showed no emotion as the verdict was read." Funny stuff.