There are certain things an aspiring journalist should never say. Here are three for starters – but what others are there?
1. “I don’t read the news”
Whether you mean newspapers, or listening to radio or TV, this is heard as “I don’t care about anything much. I have no interest in my profession. I have no understanding of the current news agenda.”
The listener doesn’t care if you’re the best writer in the world, or have a world exclusive on the back burner – they just scratched your name off a list somewhere.
2. “I can’t spell!”
“…” That… is the sound of tumbleweed. Whether you say this half-jokingly or even totally-jokingly, what an editor actually hears is:
“Everything I write will take up someone else’s time to sub-edit. At some point, some bad copy will get through and make this organisation look like a bunch of illiterate fools. PS: Don’t let me near Twitter.”
Editors don’t joke about spelling.
3. “I hate using the phone.”
Most other journalists do, too: it’s annoying, having to speak to human beings when we could be spending hours honing a killer intro. But no one says it because this is the one part of the role that distinguishes them from everyone else.
So rest assured you’re not alone. Then shut up and pick up the phone.
…And here are some others suggested in comments and on Twitter:
4. “I’m waiting for them to reply to my email”
…Because of course your email went straight to the top of their list. See 3. above.
5. “I forgot to ask”
@paulbradshaw “I forgot to ask” – “Yeah I gave them ‘a’ call”
— Kadhim Shubber (@kadhimshubber) October 4, 2013
5. “What’s a blog?”
@paulbradshaw “what’s a blog?”, “isn’t social media just people sharing pictures of cats?”
— James Galley (@jagalley) October 4, 2013
6. “They never got back to me.”
From Cliff in the comments: You are responsible for following it up. Say “They are being evasive. I’ll keep trying.”
7. “I’ve done my shift.”
@marklittlenews @paulbradshaw ‘I know we’ve got this big story on, but I’ve done my 8 hours for the day and I’m going’
— Steve Dunthorne (@Steve_Dunthorne) October 4, 2013
8. “Where is this running?”
Also from Cliff in the comments: “Whether it’s on the front page or on page five of the TV guide, treat is just as professionally. Where it’s running isn’t your job.”
9. “Do you have the contact number for..?”
From John Thompson in the comments.
@marklittlenews @paulbradshaw “I’m absent-minded. If someone reached into my Rolodex & stole a bunch of cards I may not even notice.”
— Alexander Lobov (@alexlobov) October 4, 2013
10. “There’s no news”
Reply: “Look harder.”
11. “Well, it’s gotta be… “/“Everybody knows that it’s…”
From Jack Rosenberry in the comments: Saying things such as this equate to “I’m too lazy to do enough fact checking/verification”, which is a slippery slope to errors that will clobber you.
12. “I wrote a piece about [blank] instead.”
From paperguydavies in the comments: “Did you ask ahead of time if you could write a piece about (blank) instead? Because if you did, you don’t need to say that, and if you didn’t, you shouldn’t have written a piece about (blank) instead.”
13. “We ran that story last year”
That doesn’t mean nothing new has happened since. Even the annual ‘A levels getting easier’ debate deserves coverage (because a trend has continued, and people are talking about it again), and in some cases ‘no news’ is news – if something was revealed a year ago and nothing has been done about it, for example.From Bart Brouwers.
14. “We can wait – it’s an exclusive”
…Until someone else gets it. Also from Bart Brouwers.
15. “That’s how it was written in the press release”
@paulbradshaw in reply to why something is spelt incorrectly or not in house style – “that’s how it was written in the press release”
— Emma O’Sullivan (@EmSulley) October 7, 2013
16. “Well that’s what he told me. I didn’t understand it either.”
If you didn’t understand it, why do you think your readers will? From Deputy Editor of Devon Life Owen Jones.
17. “It’s not news – everyone [in our circle] knows about it”
After a while of working in news you can start to believe ‘new’ means ‘new to me and my friends’. It doesn’t – it means new to your audience. Stories can be new in the specialist or local press one day, new in the national press the next day, and new on TV the day after. But more than that, people in different circles know different things at different times. What matters is whether your audience knows about it.
Can you think of others?
UPDATE: Here’s a list of things to avoid in a job application too…
“They never got back to me.” You are responsible for following it up. Say “They are being evasive. I’ll keep trying.”
Or: “Where is this running?” Whether it’s on the front page or on page five of the TV guide, treat is just as professionally. Where it’s running isn’t your job.”
Where it’s running is usually pretty relevant to the tone/style of the piece
“Do you have the contact number for…?”
This *can* be a legitimate question. Not sure why it’s listed as something never to ask.
“This is going to be late, by the way.” Don’t say this. Explain the situation with the piece and ASK if it’s okay if it’s late.
“I wrote a piece about (blank) instead.” Did you ask ahead of time if you could write a piece about (blank) instead? Because if you did, you don’t need to say that, and if you didn’t, you shouldn’t have written a piece about (blank) instead.
“I hate working the night shift, morning shift, weekend shift….” We’ve all done it. Its called paying your dues. Suck it up.
“Well, it’s gotta be…. “. or “Everybody knows that it’s….” Saying things such as this equate to “I’m too lazy to do enough fact checking/verification, whichnis a slippery slope to errors that will clobber you
Agree with all of them but number 9.
Just because there is Google nowadays does it mean we HAVE to use it even if it makes our lives a bit harder? Someone in the newsroom might have a useful number sometimes? No?
Even as journalism tries to keep up with Web 2.0, there’s no reason why “individual” journalists can’t be on the cutting edge of social media and technology. I know many of the “newsroom taboos” are mentioned half-jokingly, but now more than ever credibility and quality depend on reaching the right people at the right time. Fax just ain’t going to cut it anymore…
I don’t have anything to pitch this week.
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“I looked it up on Google” or even better “But Wikipedia said so…” Google will return a search for any and everything. We should cross-check with official websites for facts and figures and proper dictionaries for spellings.