The pun addiction of newscasters

Peter Barss thinks newscasters overuse puns. In a letter to CTV, he wrote:

Like many news stations (radio and television) you seem inclined to use as many puns as you can fit into a story. The question I’d like to suggest that you ask yourselves is, “Why?”

Does a pun help to elucidate a story? I don’t think so. In fact, the use–overuse actually–of puns acts as a distraction from the news. Instead of helping to clarify a story, puns draw attention to the “cleverness” of the speaker. It’s like “Hey, look at me. I just found another pun.” Just because a pun can be made does not mean that it should be made.

Another thing to keep in mind is that puns are generally defined as a “humorous” play on words.

A couple of nights ago Jacqueline Foster was describing the incident in Mexico when a woman was badly beaten in an elevator.

Quoting a relative Foster said, “Prosser (the woman’s uncle) says every bone in her face was broken.” And then Foster added, ” The family also shattered…”

Clever? No. Humorous? Nope.

I don’t think it was Peter’s intent to single out Foster or CTV, since, as he points out, many newscasters are equally guilty. The habit is less irritating when it occurs in the banter among co-hosts, but puns, like alliteration, should be used sparingly in the news.

There are times, however, when puns are irresistible. Doug MacKay, former editor of the late lamented Halifax Daily News (celebrating its fourth deathaversary this weekend) recalls one from his days out west:

At the Winnipeg Free Press in the 1970s, there was a rough and ready sports deskman named Dallis Beck. Harold Ballard, the controversial owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was on trial for his financial shenanigans. On the wintry day after Ballard testified in his own defence, Beck headed the story: “Hark, the angel Harold sings.”

At the risk of undercutting Peter’s point, with which I wholeheartedly agree, I’ll note that MacKay’s yarn appears in a roundup of news puns, intentional and otherwise, compiled by the late Charles Stough of the Burned Out Newspapercreatures Guild listserv, aka BONG. [Archive link, anyone?]

[Disclosure: Barss was once my brother-in-law and remains my pal; MacKay was never a relative but is always a pal.]