Beware emotive, apocalyptic language!

There are words, which when used in an interview, will always tend to jump out to the journalist and find their way into the headline. If you are the one being interviewed, it is smart only to use these emotive words if this is what you want to be remembered by – in other words deliberately, rather than accidentally in response to a question. It’s an issue that often comes up in our media training courses – If the reporter uses negative language, it doesn’t mean that you have to as well. Words as ‘nightmare’, ‘disaster’ and so on are what I call ‘headline words’ – editors like to give them prominence because they catch the attention of readers, viewers and listeners.

So it was that Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey, answering questions at the Treasury Select Committee about the worrying rise in inflation, talked about “apocalyptic food price increases worldwide”, which will generate “a global famine”. If Bank Governors are supposed to be about calming markets and the public, convincing them that everything is under control and urging restraint, this had the opposite effect – stoking up inflationary fears and no doubt pay claims too. Mr Bailey was roundly criticised by the government for making things sound even worse than they actually are – one source is quoted as describing the comments as “ridiculous and frankly irresponsible”. Another accused Bailey of “complete hyperbole”. The word ‘apocalyptic’ certainly found its way into many front page headlines the following morning. The key for interviewees is to think about what signals they are trying to send to their audience – and choose the terminology they would actually like to be remembered by.

More on our Media Training Courses