I Surface You; You Surface Me

by Categorized: Words and phrases Date:

I like where I work. I work at Connecticut Public Radio (WNPR). It’s pretty easy to go on the air — as we’ve been doing this week — and ask people to pledge money, because we do good stuff, stuff I firmly believe in.

Today I got on the elevator and noticed, posted on the wall, this mission statement for our whole company, CPBN.

CPBN Vision and Promise

VISION: To be the world’s bravest public media organization, exploring territory in ways no one else can, and empowering our audience to make our world a more extraordinary place to live.


— Create a safe space for exploring hard topics.

— Surface all sides of an issue without judgment.

— Give Connecticut a voice.

— Explore our shared curiosities.

— Connect, grow, and learn with you.

— Make you laugh, cheer, and reflect.

OK, my heart sank a little. (But then it surfaced?) The ideas are nice. I can (more than) live with all  but one of those sentiments. The first sentence would have benefited from some copy editing. For example, the double use of the pronoun “our” creates unnecessary confusion. “Our audience” is CPBN’s audience. But “our world” is presumably everybody’s world, right? We’re not asking our audience to make things extraordinary just for us, I hope. Whatever. I’m not upset about that.

I am upset about the word “surface.” What, in that context, can it possibly mean? “Surface,” used as a transitive verb, has a small set of meanings, all of them having to do with putting a new surface on something, like a road. In that sense, surfacing something inevitably involves changing its exterior, either by adding a new coat or perhaps by polishing. There is something “Dr. Maxmilian” does in his Dubai tooth clinic, but I doubt you’d want it done to you. The transitive sense of “surface” seems completely at odds with all that follows. How can you present “all sides of an issue without judgment” if you’re polishing and sanding and pouring some new asphalt on it?

The other possibility is that this is some attempt to play around with intransitive meanings of “surface” — possibly in the sense of “bring to the surface.” If so, it’s a non-standard use of the word. It’s unnecessarily confusing. Why would the world’s bravest public media organization want a confusing word in its mission statement?

I smell a consultant. They can’t charge you $100,000 an hour (or whatever they charge) just to come up with “present all sides of each issue without judgment.” No. They have to use “surface” in manner that implies a acquaintance with special idioms of the business world.

Of course, it’s also not our mission. We’re not supposed to present all sides of, say, the vaccination issue without judgment. That wouldn’t be very brave.


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