Managementspeak and the unreadable memo

From Jack Shafer,
I take as an article of faith that every workaday journalist who blossoms into the supreme editor of a publication demonstrates at some point an ability to write effectively— if not artfully. Unless they can write, how can they judge and edit their staff’s copy?

But anecdotal evidence indicates that once enthroned, editors misplace whatever writing knack they once possessed. Perhaps they end up spending so much time with other executives that they end up adopting the ruling class’s native tongue of bullshit.

So take the case of Sandy Rowe, who runs the Oregonian. Rowe’s recent communiqué to the newsroom about staff changes and the newspaper’s “future” was written in the saddest bureaucratese:

As you know, we must transform The Oregonian into a news organization characterized by a reader-first culture across platforms, by agility, and by rigorous and shared standards of success. Our leadership jobs must align with and support our mission, and provide clarity of purpose for the rest of the organization.

Buzz words dot her memo like Everglades roadkill. Transform. Culture. Standards. Platforms. Rigorous. Leadership. Align. Mission. Purpose. Clear goals embedded in our mission. Build our value. Utilize. Maximize the talent. Prioritize. Transition. Challenge. Teams. Committed. Open access issues. Goals. Utility. Impact. Advocate. Evangelist. And this doozy: implementation of the principles of the community connections pillar.

If the editor can’t crack a quip in a memo, if the editor can’t turn an original phrase or mint a fresh idea, she can’t expect her staff to perform such miracles in their copy. Running Rowe’s copy through a word-frequency program illustrates her limited palette. I’ve read grocery lists that were more literate.

Read Shafer’s piece in its complete form on the excellent Slate website by clicking here.

What do you think of memos like this? Post your comments below. And if you’ve received a really bad piece of managementspeak from your bosses, copy it through to – no names or packdrill, of course – and we might just share it with a wider audience…