Jon Shirek got the worst assignment of the day Wednesday: Go cover a water main break at Clairmont Rd. and I-85.
He was brilliant.
Nobody wants to cover water main breaks. They rank right up there with suspicious packages, gas leaks and knuckleheads holding themselves hostage. Generally, such stories eat up a reporter’s valuable time which could be spent covering real news.
“Oh, and you’re live at 6,” Shirek was told. His live shot preceded mine, so I heard his report in my earpiece as I was waiting to do mine.
“This is a fluid situation,” Shirek intoned, spicing his usual low-burn intensity with a hint of mischief. The “fluid situation” is a phrase uttered in all manner of stories covered live on local and cable news. But Shirek had actual fluid gushing behind him.
And he knew exactly what he was doing. Nobody uses language or disdains TV cliches more reliably than Shirek.
Shirek then said “literally and figuratively.” Just as I might cringe a little whenever I hear “fluid situation,” I likewise cringe at “literally.” It’s possibly the most misused / overused word in TV. During the papal conclave, I heard an Atlanta TV reporter tell viewers that “Catholics were literally glued to their TVs.”
But the added phrase showed the Shirek knew exactly what he was saying. He might have even backhandedly schooled the audience (and maybe some other TV reporters) about the misuse of “literally.”
Shirek gets an A+ for having a bit of rhetorical fun with an otherwise lousy story. But he wasn’t done. He went on to report, with another hint of mischief, that the broken water main would “have a ripple effect” on traffic throughout the region. Behind him, water rippled.
When I heard this in my earpiece, I doubled over. I had to work to regain my composure; my report immediately followed Shirek’s.
The story itself was a throwaway. But if you can cover a story like that while punishing some of the most tiresome phrases in the TV news playbook, you’ve uplifted your little corner of mankind.
I’d wished I’d done it — even if it meant covering a water main break.