In Newswriting, Change the Legacy of Clichés

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By Christopher Jones-Cruise

The end of the Obama presidency means we are being flooded with stories about his legacy. (I’m working on one now.) I’m hoping none of them will include:

“The good, the bad, the ugly” of the Obama presidency. The worst of clichés.

President Obama’s “terrible, no good, very bad year…” Somebody please tell The Washington Post to stop using this phrase. We’re over it.

The president’s “future plans.” Does he have past plans?

The president’s “past experience.” All experience is in the past.

References to Obama headed for “unchartered waters” (you mean “uncharted”).

Unless editors step in, every story on the Obama legacy will almost assuredly end in almost the same way, as this one does: “His legacy is likely to be fiercely debated for decades to come.” Ya think? That’s both bad writing and poor editing. Isn't every president's legacy “fiercely debated for decades...”? (Almost as bad: “time will tell.” Of course it will! It always does! So why say it?)

“The first hundred days.” This is a leftover from the Franklin Roosevelt days and is a purely media construct. It is artificial and meaningless and we shouldn’t be using it.

“This may be the most controversial president ever.” That may just be true, but then again it may not. In any case, is it wise to use such broad statements? Does it help the audience? What does it even communicate?

“This is one of the most critical moments in American history.” Oh? More so than the Civil War, the Bay of Pigs invasion or Nixon’s resignation? Ease up on the hyperbole.

“This will be the moment Trump will make America great again.” No, it won’t be. His presidency will be made up of many moments. And, in any case, that is a campaign slogan, not the task he has in front of him.

Words to stay away from: icon, legend, amid.

Phrases to stay away from: brave new world, best and the brightest, sparked by, as you know/as you will remember, in recent memory, comes on the heels of and stemmed from.

Christopher Jones-Cruise is a broadcaster at the Voice of America in Washington and an anchor on the Westwood One Radio Network. His views are his own.