OLD Media Moves

The language of business journalism

October 28, 2009

Elinore Longobardi of Columbia Journalism Review writes in the latest issue about how “subprime” lending became more common than “predatory” lending in the business press and what it means for future coverage.

Longobardi writes, “Instead of the right word, the press deployed another word — ‘subprime’ — for reasons that are to some extent understandable, but unfortunate nonetheless. Unfortunate because ‘subprime’ describes only the borrower, in unflattering terms, and has nothing to say about the lender.

“That brings us to a secondary phrase: the less common but far more interesting ‘predatory lending.’ Interesting because it both gets us closer to the heart of the problem, putting the focus on the lender, and yet still falls tragically short. Its rhetorical punch has given it staying power but has also hindered its broader acceptance by the press — leaving space for ‘subprime’ to slip into ever more common usage and eventually to dominate the discourse.

“Why is this crucial? Because when large segments of the business press dismissed the term ‘predatory lending,’ they also dismissed the practice. The press had trouble understanding the crisis because it didn’t know how to talk — and thus how to think — about it.”

Read more here.

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