Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Why Marijuana Stories Put Reporters in a Joking Mood

Read enough about marijuana legalization and you'll notice that journalists break out the reefer puns in full force.
Maybe it's that the old marijuana laws have gone "up in smoke." Or that pot is becoming a "budding" economic force. Or that law enforcement agencies are trying to "weed out" small-scale cannabis producers. There's no shortage of jokey one-liners when reporters are writing about herb.
It's not just high school newspapers that are doing the clowning. It's places like CBS NewsCNNNew York Magazine and lots of others.
Pot jokes are not exactly a new news phenomenon -- Mediaite wrote about them in 2010 -- but they don't seem to be going away anytime soon.
So what's really behind the media's bud punning? I asked Ryan Vandrey, an associate professor at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine who studies the use of marijuana and nicotine. Here are some of the reasons we came up with:
A Lot of People Smoke It
Nearly half of Americans have tried smoking marijuana at one point or another, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press.
That means that if you slip a pot reference into a story, there's a pretty good chance your readers are going to know what you're talking about.
Even If You Don't Smoke It, You See It
Beyond firsthand experience, you're likely to come across the drug inmusicmovies and art.
That all contributes to the shared knowledge that we have about pot.
"Marijuana is so prevalent and ingrained in our culture and you have so many of those alternative terms that there is almost a language built around it," Vandrey said.
Journalists Have Strong Opinions About It
It doesn't matter who the reporters are or what outlets they work for -- stories still come tinged with the viewpoint of the people who write them. And Vandrey says that most of the journalism on marijuana seems to take a strong position over the value of the drug.
"You have people who think that marijuana is great and you have people who think it's awful, harmful stuff," he said. "And the truth of the matter is that it's somewhere in the middle."
Puns can be a way to belittle one side of the argument. And because reporters already come to the story with a strong angle, they might deploy language that comes across as less than neutral.
What's the Impact of All the Jokes?
Pot puns aren't necessarily a bad thing, according to Vandrey. It just depends on the intent of the writer.
"If they're using it to kind of make fun of or trivialize things, then that's not good," he said. "But if you're doing it just to catch a headline or just to kind of draw people's attention, and then you have a serious piece that follows it, I don't know, I could go either way on that."