"People trust accents,” Professor Burton said. Although it was only a short aside as we discussed the history of journalism and the start of the BBC, this comment piqued my interest. She explained that when people listen to the news, they prefer genuine voices of people – accents and all – rather than the practiced pronunciation of old school British news anchors (à la 1953 BBC). Huh, ok. I wondered how that outlook would work in news broadcasting in the US or Japan.
I imagined what radio news would be like if Carl Kasell on NPR were to have a New York accent. What if Michele Norris had a thick southern accent (think Paula Dean from the Food Network)? On one hand, it would add flare to the news – something unusual and diverse – but which also runs the risk of becoming irritating or even incomprehensible. My mom, who is foreign but has lived in the states for 20+ years, could not make heads or tails of Southern accents when we first moved to NC. She would have a cow if she had to try to understand the news through some rich, thick accent.
For similar reasons, the news in Japan is broadcast in standard, formal Japanese. Japan has many regional dialects – Osaka/Kansai, Kyoto, etc – which are often considered more expressive and interesting than standard Japanese, but because there are so many particularities to the dialects, people in other parts of the country would not understand the news, not unlike UK accents (see vid).
Still, in the defense of accents, when things like Story Corps on NPR are narrated by the individuals and include their Chicago twang or the sway and flow of black English, their stories become more vivid and personal. I also enjoy listening to Fiona Ritchie’s broadcast during the Celtic music segment and the many UK accents aired on the BBC. Despite perhaps not being practical for reporting headline news, I think accents would communicate to the public the news is not just about media corporations. It is stories about real people in the world told by real people who have quirks and eccentricities in the way they speak – just like you and me.