FYI, say ‘no’ to acronyms | SierraSun.com
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FYI, say ‘no’ to acronyms

Along with reporting and writing news stories, the job of journalists is to make confusing topics less so.That’s why I was delighted to read the other day that the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors are going to fine themselves $1 each time they dip into the alphabet soup of acronyms used by bureaucrats, politicians, cops, and, yes, lazy journalists.If a person doesn’t deal with certain issues on a regular basis, then things like LAFCo, DEIR, CEQA, NEPA, TRPA, NCSO, TDRPD, TTSA, TSA, SLEDNET, TART, TDPUD, TTUSD and a whole mouthful of dry acronyms are practically meaningless, and mind-numbingly boring.After years of covering specific beats like cops and government, reporters too often begin to use the same lingo as the people they are writing about. It’s kind of like the Stockholm syndrome without the kidnapping. Although while you’re sitting through a five-hour town council meeting it can feel as though you’ve been taken hostage. (I wonder if Patty Hearst took to calling it the Symbionese Liberation Army or, when in the bank, just said, “Stick ’em up. I’m with the SLA, gimme all yer money.”)The Contra Costa County supes, meanwhile, have made it a no-no to utter those damned acronyms during their meetings or in written materials for meetings. The idea was taken from a county up in Washington state, which donates the fines – up to $150 at times – to local charities.”It really is about making government more understandable and user- friendly and transparent,” explained Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond to the San Francisco Chronicle. “When people can’t understand what you’re talking about, they can’t feel involved.”I agree. Even though we’re a little town in the Sierra, acronyms have taken root here. Try editing a story that centers on the feud between our friends at Cebridge Connections and the Tahoe Donner Public Utility District, which was played out at the Local Agency Formation Commission.Just like the county officials in Washington and Contra Costa, I hate to see stories full of TDPUD and LAFCo references. Conversely, I hate to have readers tie their tongues up in knots trying to say Local Agency Formation Commission (that’s if they haven’t fallen asleep already) and Truckee Donner Public Utility District 10 times in a story.What to do? We could just refer to the Truckee Donner Public Utility District as PUD. But if you pronounce that as pud, not P.U.D., well, after checking out the slang dictionary that may not go over in, um, a big way.So perhaps our town council and the managers of our special districts can pledge $1 to forego the bad – and boring – language. If they fail, it will just help local charities. If they don’t even try – and I hate to say it – everything will be SNAFU (And it’s not just fouled up!).Jamie Bate is the editor of the Sierra Sun. Reach him at jbate@sierrasun.com


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