Lessons from a micromanager: Don’t say these words on WGN

Someone send a management consultant to Tribune Tower, please.

This week, Chicago media watcher and blogger Robert Feder provided the inside scoop on the 119 things you can’t say on WGN-AM radio. CEO Randy Michaels dictated a list of “forbidden ‘newsspeak’ words and phrases” that should never be said on the station.

And the news director added another wrinkle: Turn in your fellow workers who use such phrases on air.

My gag reflex kicks in at the thought of the CEO dictating taboo words such as “laud,” “seek,” and “youth,” and asking coworkers to report violators to the higher-ups.

What’s sad about this scenario is that the idea is noble: Eliminate newsspeak and catch phrases from the airwaves. I found myself nodding in agreement with most items identified in the memo. What self-respecting writer wouldn’t cringe at “close proximity” or “completely destroyed”?

But I recoil at the thought of being ordered to speak in a certain way. Journalists and newscasters are knowledge workers who need creative freedom to thrive, especially in a newsroom environment fractured by economic chaos.

Management study after management study shows such workers respond poorly to top-down edicts. Why not appeal to their sense of professionalism instead?


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