It’s the start of a new term in journalism courses across the country, and journalism lecturers will once again be spending the first few weeks helping students to ‘unlearn’ a habit they acquire at school: the impulse to use multiple synonyms instead of the word “said”*.
It’s not their fault. At school pupils are encouraged to extend their vocabulary when writing. Using “said” repetitively is seen as limited or uncreative, and pupils are told to find other words to add variety. “Stated”, “uttered”, and “commented” are just three words that journalism tutors will be striking out in the coming weeks.
But these synonyms are rarely used in journalism. To find out just how rarely they are used — and what the exceptions are — I looked at a sample of the 10 most recent news stories from three outlets: the BBC, Daily Mail/MailOnline, and BuzzFeed (30 in total).
Over the weekend the BBC had to deal with the embarrassing ignorance of someone in their complaints department who appeared to believe that images shared on Twitter were “public domain” and “therefore … not subject to the same copyright laws” as material outside social networks.
The copyright issue – and the existence of a member of BBC staff who hadn’t read the Corporation’s own guidelines on the matter – was a distraction. What really rumbled through the 170+ comments – and indeed Andy’s original complaint – was the issue of attribution.