Write Right

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Write Right

Category : News

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.

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A News View

Phil's News Map

When I first started in news, I realized we tend to have a warped perspective of the world. Maybe it’s the odd hours, maybe it’s the fast pace or maybe it’s the being immersed in the bad news. Whatever the reason when I’m in a conversation with a non-newsie and the name of a town or community is brought up, my mind goes to what story I was there to cover. Most of the time it’s bad; a fire, flood or murder. Sometimes there are good stories; political activism, an inspiring sports team or just a quirky person doing something interesting. Either way, I’m certain it’s not how most people view the world. If you’re interested in testing this theory, find a person who works in news and ask them what they know about your hometown.

I wanted to find a way to convey just how interesting and diverse a life in news is, so after doing a story about a guy who created a cool map…I decided to make my own. It’s a Google map that allows me to place markers at the locations I’ve found myself. Each icon has a description of the story I was there to cover and sometimes my thoughts and reactions to the story or the community. Some icons include pictures or video from the scene.

While there are a lot of bad stories I’ve had to cover, each one has taken me to a different part of Oklahoma. I’ve tried to include positive experiences even with the most negative of stories. I have not included every story I’ve covered since arriving in Oklahoma three years ago, but I’ve tried to hit every town I have visited. I will continue to update this map as I travel to new locations and tell new stories.

To view the map use the embedded link below. You can also find a more permanent location on the  “Phil’s Map” page, or go to the “Pages” tab at the top of your screen.  It is important to note that the thoughts and views expressed in the icons are my own and do not represent the staff or management of any station or employer.

View Phil’s News in a larger map

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Amber Waves of Grain

wheatIf you take a trip down almost any rural road in Oklahoma you’ll come across some of the most American stories.  On this trip to a small farm north of Enid, Oklahoma I came across some men in love truly in love with the country, only they’re not from this country at all.  In fact Steven and Kevin Clarke traveled from across the pond to land in a sea of gold.

I came across this story in a newspaper article a year ago, and held onto with hopes the story would come back around…it did.  So we packed up and headed north from the city.  We followed the golden wheat fields to Delbert Joyner’s Centennial Farm.  Delbert’s family started farming just after the land run in the late 1800s.

Three years ago Delbert was bringing in his harvest a top a classic Massey Ferguson combine.  That’s when he saw a car pull up next to the field.  Two men stepped out, one started taking pictures.  The other man walked right up and got on the combine with Delbert.  “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Delbert says.  You see, it was the red combine with the distinctive white top that caught the Clarke brother’s eye.  It was just like the combine they used on their small farm back in Norfolk, England.  They were on something of a farming adventure vacation.  Two men in love with the land and the machines – just taking in the heartland.

Steven and Kevin Clarke are both farmers, but they seem to have something of an obsession with classic farm equipment.  The love affair began, according to Kevin, with a 1972 National Geographic article.  It introduced them to wheat harvesting.  In 1976, their passion was awakened with a documentary by the BBC.  “Yellow Trail From Texas” followed two custom harvesters from Oklahoma.  They spent an entire summer cutting wheat from Texas all the way to Canada.  The idea of spending six months in the fields was a dream job for the Clarke brothers, but they were too young to join a custom cutting crew.  Still they kept the dream alive and a few years ago made the trip to America.

After spotting Delbert on his combine, they asked to return the following year to help him with his harvest.  Delbert agreed.  Good to their word, the Clarke brothers arrived ready to work.  This is their second year helping Delbert fix up his old combines.  To them it’s not work,  Kevin admits some people may not understand why two farmers would want to spend their vacation working on a farm, “A lot of them think we’re mad, but this is what we love doing so we’re happy.”

The smile on Kevin’s face when he’s sitting on top of the massive machines is enough to make anyone love forget about the city and fall in love with the farm.  It’s true happiness found in the hearts of some international visitors in love with America’s fruited plain.

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Red Dirt Rebellion

I must admit, my life is pretty tame.  I go to work and enjoy relatively quiet hobbies, but I love meeting people who get me in touch with the more wild side of life.  Enter the girls of the Red Dirt Rebellion.

The Red Dirt Rebellion is Oklahoma’s only all-female, banked-track roller derby league.  If you think you know roller-derby, think again.  This isn’t the staged show that was once popular.  It’s not even the regular roller derby that is starting to make a comeback.  It’s pure adrenaline.

We met Emily Murray at the track.  She goes by Suzi Uzi, like the gun, on the track.  Once the skates go on all these girls take on a different persona and it’s no-holds barred excitement.  You don’t have to be a wild gal to take part, there are nurses, homemakers…even a meteorologist on the track.  Suzi explained how they formed the league and how they built the massive track from the ground up.  An interesting side-note, the track was dismantled as soon as it was built and sent off to a movie set.  The track will be used in an upcoming Drew Barrymore movie called “Whip It,” which is about roller derby.

This was a unique and exciting experience.  If you have never seen roller derby or just want to meet some ladies who play hard and know how to have a good time, I recommend checking them out.

On the web: Red Dirt Rebellion

Phil's Thoughts