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The jargon of journalism

29th Aug 12

By Bernard O’Riordan, Clarity Media Trainer

Our blog earlier this year on The Five Worst Professions For Jargon certainly set the cat among the pigeons, with many people pointing out that journalists are just as guilty of using acronyms and confusing industry-specific terms when they speak.

Journalists - who spend so much time trying to keep the jargon of bankers, academics, police, doctors and lawyers out of their stories – admittedly use a lot of peculiar language and specialist words that can be baffling to outsiders.

To prove the point, a client told me about an incident with a newspaper reporter that left them totally bamboozled.

The reporter left a voicemail message saying that the story they had interviewed them for was great, but was now running as a “nib”. In the world of newspapers, ‘nib’ means “news in brief”.

Similarly, when the tables are turned on reporters and they find themselves in the interview hot seat, they can be just as verbose as the next person. 

Even Fairfax Media boss Greg Hywood - a seasoned business reporter of longstanding - fell into the trap in a recent interview where he spoke about the newspaper publisher’s shock $A2.73 billion loss.

Apart from using lots of distracting verbal filler like “Aah” and “Look” to start a response, Hywood littered his monotone message with typical and tiresome financial jargon like “impacting upon” “extracting advertising revenue”, “synergies” and “FY12”. 

It wasn’t the worst interview I’ve seen, but when you're message is aimed at anxious shareholders, potential investors and even your own employees (who don't necessarily have a financial background) you need to strip out the jargon so that you are compelling, convincing and easily understood. 

It shows that even the most-experienced journalists can cling to dull, technical and meaningless terms and phrases when really they should find a simpler and more effective way of communicating with the masses, particularly when it involves bad news.

Perhaps that's why many journalists (newspaper reporters at least) are often better at asking the hard questions than they are responding to them. 

To be fair to my colleagues of the Fourth Estate, reporters are trained to constantly edit others, not themselves. So they're not always aware when they fail to live up to their own lofty expectations. 

But as we touched on in our earlier blog – our most-read blog this year by a long way – jargon really is the enemy of good writing and clear communication, no matter who you are or what you do. And yes, journalists can be as guilty of it as the next person, it's just that they're rarely the ones being interviewed. 

In keeping with today's theme, I thought it would be useful to share some of the most common jargon used in newsrooms to help you in your dealings with reporters at newspapers or in TV or radio.

The following glossary is really a brief snapshot designed to keep you in the loop and help you to understand the lingo that journalists and their editors use on a daily basis.

So the next time a newspaper reporter tells you your story is the “splash”, a radio announcer asks you to grab the “cans”, or a TV reporter says they’re waiting for their “camo”, you won’t be left scratching your head.


Angle: The emphasis chosen for a story, or the perspective from which a story is written.

Back bench: Senior production journalists on a newspaper.

Body: The main part of a story.

Blockline: A caption for a photograph or image.

Bulldog: An early edition of a newspaper.

Breakout (also known as a sidebar): A secondary news story that supports or amplifies a major story.

Byline: A journalist's name at the beginning of a story.

Camo: A TV cameraman/woman.

Column: A regular feature often on a specific topic, written by the same person who is known as a columnist.

Copy: Main text of a story.

Coverline, or strapline: Captions on a magazine cover or newspaper front page.

Clippings: A journalist's collection of published print work. Also known as cuttings and sometimes presented as a portfolio.

Cut-away: A technique in television editing to break up a lengthy shot on one subject. In long interviews, the camera may ‘cut away’ to a shot of the interviewer.

Dead air: An extended unwanted silence on radio, often caused by technical or operating errors.

Door-stop: When a reporter or group of reporters interview someone as they leave a building, often unexpectedly.

Drop in: Late news added after the edition has already started printing.

Dummy: A preliminary layout of a newspaper page, showing the placement of stories, headlines, pictures and advertisements.

Dump button: The button that a radio host hits to instantly delete objectionable comments or expletives when there's a seven second delay.

Five Ws and H: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? The six most important questions journalists should ask and news stories should answer.

Filler: This would be content that is used to fill holes.

Grab or sound bite: A brief, colourful piece of recorded sound, usually taken from a longer interview and used in a news item.

Header: The main title of the article.

Kicker: A small headline in different type above and slightly to the left of the main headline.

Layout sub: A sub-editor who specialises in laying out pages.

Lead: The all important first paragraph.

Mic: Short for microphone.

Mug shot: A head-and-shoulders photograph of a person facing the camera.

Nib: News in brief - a quick summary of a story.

Noddy: In television, a brief cut-away shot of a reporter or interviewer listening to an interviewee’s answer, often nodding his or her head.

Nut graf (also known as bullet points): It refers to a paragraph or box containing the essential elements of a story.

On spec: Article that is written in case it is needed (i.e. speculative), though it may not be used.

Overlay: When sound is overlayed onto images for a TV news story. 

Pad: To make a story longer by using more words than are necessary.

Pan: Slowly moving a television camera left or right..

Pointer: Words at the end of a story that point the reader to similar stories in another part of the newspaper or magazine.

Pull-out quote: Selected quote from a story highlighted next to the main text. Often used in interviews.

Put to Bed: When the paper heads to press and newsroom has signed off all pages.

Quote: Record of what a source or interviewee has said.

Run: To publish a story.

Running order: The order in which stories appear in a bulletin or current affairs program, giving titles, times and other information.

Rushes: Early edited version of video or film that needs further editing.

Scrum:  A gathering of reporters around a person, all competing to ask questions or take photographs. Compare with a media conference.

Segue: (Pronounced seg-way) In broadcasting, a transition from one topic to another using a word, idea or theme common to both.

Shoot: A pre-arranged or scheduled assignment to take pictures or ‘shoot’ film.

Snap (or flash): A short message from a news agency alerting subscribers to an event about which they will shortly provide more detailed coverage. 

Sound bite (sometimes called a grab): A short segment of someone speaking, usually the most colourful or interesting part of what they said.

Soundo: A television sound recordist.

Spike: To kill an article submitted for publication.

Spill (also known as jump): To continue a story from one page to another.

Splash: An exciting front page story given prominence so people will take notice of it.

Snapper: A newspaper photographer.

Standfirst: Line of text after the headline that gives more information about the article.

Stand-up: A head and shoulders shot which features the reporter talking into the camera at the scene of the news event.

Sting: A short piece of music (from 5 to 30 seconds) played in radio program breaks or to add drama.

Strapline: A smaller one-line headline for a story.

Stringer: A regular contributor to a newspaper or broadcaster who is not a member of staff. Stringers are often paid by the length of stories they provide.

Talent: Anyone who is invited to be interviewed on radio or television. 

Teaser: A short audio or video segment produced to advertise an upcoming news bulletin or news items.

Throw: Where one person on-air passes (‘throws’) the story to someone else.

Two-shot: In television, a camera angle which includes two people on the screen, usually an interview guest and the interviewer.

Typo: An unintentional typing error in a story.

Voice over (VO): A television technique in which a reporter speaks while vision is being shown on screen.

Wire: Reuters, Bloomberg, Australian Associated Press or other news services whose dispatches are transmitted electronically to the publication. Stories or photographs provided by wire services for journalists to use in reporting or compiling news for publication or broadcast.


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