Crisis? What crisis?
Crisis is a word much loved by journalists but has it become so overused that it has lost its meaning?
It's been widely employed in the past couple of weeks in relation to the floods and relations with Russia, for instance. So I looked it up in the dictionary to remind myself what it means in the world outside of journalism. Of the several meanings given, this one is the nearest to sense in which journalists use it...
- 'a condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political, or international affairs, leading to a decisive change'
It seems to me that many journalists have lost sight of the last part about 'leading to a decisive change'.
And before I'm accused of being holier than thou, I confess that The World Tonight has not been immune from doing this - last week we described the diplomatic dispute between London and Moscow as a 'crisis' and I winced. In my feedback to the output editor (we dissect the programme after each edition to decide what worked, what didn't and why) I said it didn't constitute a crisis in my view because it is too early to say if there will be permanent damage.
Mind you, at least we didn't compare the dispute to the Cold War, which many of our colleagues in the press have done, and which led the Russia expert, Robert Service, to go on the Today programme and write in The Observer that - and I paraphrase - 'I knew the Cold War and this ain't no Cold War'.
When it comes to the floods, the areas affected will return to normal eventually when the waters recede, although it may have a more permanent impact on the lives of some of the people who have had their homes flooded and don't have insurance. So how much should we talk of a crisis?
One of the values BBC journalism puts great emphasis on trying to live up to is accuracy. On top of that, language is the most basic of tools for a journalist. So using it accurately is essential. Though dramatic words help make our stories stand out, we have to guard very carefully against being tempted into hyperbole.