Write Right

If you watch the news, then you probably know the news lingo.  They are those highly predictable phrases that seem to pop up in story after story.  I had a news director who called it ‘Journalese’ and it was banned in his newsroom.  He explained, news stories should be conversational.  No one in the real world talks like a journalist.  Sure people accept it, and maybe even tolerate it, but few actually like it.

Maybe we use those words because we want to sound smart or sophisticated.  I think it’s because we get lazy.  I’m as guilty as any other reporter, producer or editor.  However, since getting my first lesson in ‘Journalese,’ I have done my best to rid it from my vocabulary and encourage others to do the same.  Here are some of the words and phrases I hope everyone calls me out on if they ever hear me say them or see me try to write them.  Just say, “Phil, you can do better.”

  • Residents – No one says this.  Perhaps, “people who live here or there.” Sure it’s more words, but it’s far more conversational.
  • Blaze – No fire coverage is complete without someone saying this word.  Breaking news…very few people in the real world use this.  I know it gets redundant to safe fire over and over again, but unless you’re a prospector from the 1800s who feels the need to reference “blue blazes” you don’t need to include this.
  • White Stuff – Snow.  No need to explain why my news director banned this word.
  • Officials – What officials?  Who were they with?  Do you know who you talked to?  The blanket ‘officials’ is so easy to use and I slip into every so often, but I try to qualify it with ‘fire officials’ or ‘state-department officials’ just to add some sort of context to the word.
  • Stable Condition – FYI…dead is the only stable condition.
  • “It’s that time of year again” – I had an anchor who refused to say this when I produced.  I often would try to slip it in to see if he was reading the scripts.  Clichés are fun to write, but in the end, they are so cliché.  Write smarter.

Of course there are so many more…add to this list or create your own.  News writing shouldn’t be predictable.  Writing is an art…use your entire palette.  Engage viewers by talking to them, not at them.