Making Bad News Writing Better

Education Resources,

By Christopher Jones-Cruise

When I started writing columns for RTDNA about bad broadcast news writing, I thought I would run out of examples, and quickly. I figured I would get two, maybe three columns out of the subject and be done with it.

Almost, four years later, I haven’t run out. So far, I’ve written almost two dozen, with half a dozen more in the works. I write the column, and will give a presentation on the subject at the Excellence in Journalism conference next month, because I believe we can and should write better, more clearly and with fewer clichés. And I think our audience sometimes mocks us and our delivery and writing, and that cannot be good for our credibility.

The New York Times has defined journalese as “a strained and artificial voice more common to news reports than to natural conversation.” The Economist has described it as “a strange English dialect.” It pervades our industry, even at the highest levels, making us sound odd, distant from our audience, often unintelligent, downright juvenile and occasionally scare-mongering.

At EIJ in Baltimore next month I’ll share some of the worst examples of journalese and some ways to write better. I’ll also show you some videos that a local television reporter has put together mocking the way we talk on the air; they’ll make you cringe because you will see and hear yourself or some of your colleagues in them. I’ll point out some Twitter accounts to follow that will help with your news writing and show you a thin and inexpensive book on the subject that can change the way you write if you apply the principles therein.

We write and speak the way we do because we have learned from bad examples or because no one demands that we write better. We rarely stop and ask why we are speaking in such an odd manner. I hope the class will be a place where we can question our writing and learn ways to write, even on deadline, without resorting to journalese.

After the session, check the conference app and RTDNA member resource portal for the presentation, links to sites that will help you write better and a big list of some of the worst journalese, including: area residents, local hospital, no word on, details are sketchy, close proximity, begs the question, pontiff, envoy, a Pittsburgh man and a lot more.

I look forward to seeing you in Charm City in The Old Line State.

Let’s just go ahead and call it Baltimore, Maryland, shall we?