The Devil’s Guide to the Media - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Devil’s Guide to the Media

The Devil’s Guide to the Media

By Sean Culligan and Sean Braswell


Because fake news is neither fake nor news. Discuss.

By Sean Culligan and Sean Braswell

In his irreverent 1906 masterpiece The Devil’s Dictionary, the American writer and journalist Ambrose Bierce took aim at all manner of human hypocrisies, sins and shortcomings by penning a lexicon of cynical word definitions for a cynical age.

In the latest installment of The Devil’s Guide, we channel Bierce’s sardonic 19th-century spirit to explore the media in the 21st century.

above the fold, n. The most valuable real estate in print media, which — like the best rooms in a brothel — is generally reserved for sex, gossip and the perversions of wealthy men.

advertisements, n. The most truthful part of a newspaper. — Thomas Jefferson

aggregator, n. An online media gallery filled with facsimiles, forgeries and knockoffs.

anecdotal lede, n. Narrative opening to a news story in which a reporter takes great pains to demonstrate why he failed as a novelist.

BuzzFeed, n. The human trial phase of behaviorism. — Verge, The New Devil’s Dictionary

clickbait, n. A mail-order bride with a no-returns policy.

CNN, n. Cable news provider whose round-the-clock reporting allows you to rubberneck a disaster while running on the treadmill or waiting to board an airplane.

columnist, n. A formerly devout reporter who has turned in her habit and press credentials in exchange for the privilege of standing in the public square every Sunday to holler at passersby about salvation and justice. 

comment, v. The digital equivalent of leaving a flaming bag of shit on someone’s doorstep. — Verge, The New Devil’s Dictionary

correction, n. Sanctimonious revision issued once it has become clear that a nontrivial number of others have noticed your sin.

Drudge Report, n. A popular “news” website with the vocabulary of a third-grader and the design aesthetic of a ransom note.

editor, n. One who separates the wheat from the chaff and prints the chaff. — attributed to Adlai Stevenson


exclusive, n. Reporter’s humble-brag that he has been the first one to finish at an orgy.

fair and balanced, adj. Market-tested to unjustly tip the scales in one preordained direction.

fake news, n. Reported information with the remarkable quality of being disagreeably untrue when applied to oneself but agreeably true when applied to others.

Fourth Estate, n. Lofty term of self-reference in which the media distinguishes itself from the other three estates, Larry, Curly and Moe.

freedom of the press, n. Freedom limited to those who own one. — A. J. Liebling

freelancer, n. Rogue reporter who sacrifices a sustainable lifestyle for the pleasure of not working with others. 

journalist, n. A machine that converts coffee into copy. — attributed to Michael Ryan Elgan

like, v. To acknowledge to the world that you have not read the news story that your good “friend” has shared with you on Facebook after not reading it herself.

listicle, n. Compendium of odd-number factoids, which, like a sexually transmitted disease, relies on the shallowest and least-inhibited members of society for its dissemination.

live-tweet, v. To talk incessantly through a brand-new movie as if you have seen it a hundred times.

mainstream media, n. Derogatory shorthand for the thousands of public-minded women and men who spent years in journalism schools learning how to best mislead the segment of the population that still believes in fairies, witches and interest-free loans.

masthead, n. The list of guilty parties.

Meet the Press, n. Beat the Press.

news, n. Gossip from at least two confirmed sources.

newspaper, n. Ancient form of daily, papery disgorgement used to line litter boxes and kill flies.

off-the-record, adj. On the record.

plagiarize, v. To take the thought or style of another writer whom one has never, never read. — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

puff piece, n. Profile in which a sinner’s all-too-noticeable flaws are converted into the scars of a renegade saint. 

reporter, n. A scribe for newspapers and television who gathers facts before reporting his opinion. — The Cynical Website

rock journalism, n. People who can’t write, doing interviews with people who can’t think, in order to prepare articles for people who can’t read. — Frank Zappa

social media, n. A rough-and-tumble frontier town where legends are born, stray cats multiply and the truth goes to die.

sponsored content, n. Act of paying the piper to play his pipe while you dance around wearing his clothes.

tweet, v. The act of using few words to express fewer ideas. — Verge, The New Devil’s Dictionary

user-generated content, n. The objectively lousy crayon scribblings made by your 4-year-old that you are nevertheless obliged to put on the refrigerator and call art.

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