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Just Words —

Just Words —
But the art is in putting them together

As all writers know, the intricacies of language are critical in enabling us to describe a certain situation. We are continuously on the lookout for new ways to express ourselves and bring maximum clarity with minimum wordage. The search for synonyms is vital to allow us to create what we believe to be sharply written articles that bring new information to the reader while taking up as little of his or her time as possible.

Following the rollercoaster ride that the diamond and jewelry industries have been on in the past three years, we have a situation where vocabulary we used two years ago can be put away, while we use a different category of words to describe the situation today.

That is most apparent in writing articles on the financial reports of diamond and jewelry companies, the import and export performances of the diamond centers and the prices of rough diamonds – although it would be reasonable to assume that it applies just as equally to every other industry.

As the situation worsened following the onset of the global financial crisis in the last quarter of 2008, and then again when the situation started to turn around in late 2009, journalists faced a distinct problem – finding enough synonyms to describe what was happening.

For example, in late 2008 and through to late 2009, the diamond trade saw demand for diamonds decline, fall, plunge, and even fall off a cliff. And then, as the situation started to recover, journalists looked for ways of telling readers that there was a moderation in the state of the market. And so, we had a flattening out of declines, there was a plateau, or prices were largely unchanged. And then, when the prices of rough diamonds turned around, we said that prices were edging up and inching up, they were increasing, they were rising, and then they started to surge and soar.

Pity the poor journalist of yester-year who needed to have a thesaurus at hand in order to be able to use different words so that he would not bore the poor reader with repetition of the same words. Such as using the word "poor" twice in the previous sentence because, well, there wasn't really a synonym for it. How easy it is today, in general, to simply right-click on a word and instantly have a choice of several words from which to choose.

Does that mean that the role of the journalist is coming to an end? Can software mimic the work of the dedicated scribe? Applications have been on the market for around two decades that aim to give publishers the ability to simply pour information into a type of mould with the result being a cleanly written and polished article providing all the relevant information.

Fortunately, these applications have not taken off, though recent reports from the United States suggest that they could have a future since development has progressed considerably in recent years. Can the average reader tell the difference between an article written by a human and a machine? And will readers care, as long as they receive accurately written news quickly? Or, more worryingly, at a lower cost?

These are not easy times for humble journalists who, in many cases, have spent decades polishing and refining their art. Although it is true that having our work done by machines running extraordinarily complex algorithms is rather more complimentary than the proverbial chimpanzee bashing away at a typewriter, it nonetheless gives us cause for concern.

As a journalist with a quarter of a century of experience in the trade, I have read about many inventions over the years that will enable us to be phased out in favor of clever machines running even cleverer software. A full 20 years ago, in Britain, alarm was widespread following the creation of a program that could design pages thus, putatively, doing away with the need for benches of sub-editors. Fortunately, the computer had a different set of priorities, and was unable to tell a human interest story from a dry stock market report.

There is one saving grace, however. As far as I am aware, applications that aim to do away with us modest wordsmiths are unable to produce acerbic blogs so there may yet be hope for us after all.

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These are not easy times for humble journalists who, in many cases, have spent decades polishing and refining their art.

Copyright ©. Albert Robinson