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Writing in Journalistic Style

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  1. Writing in Journalistic Style

  2. Learning Objectives • Understand style and use stylebooks • Edit copy for journalistic style • Choose bias-free language • Format copy • Use copyediting symbols

  3. Writing in Journalistic Style • The best way to learn journalistic style is to study the rules in the stylebook and to question every word, phrase and sentence you write until you are in the habit of using correct style.

  4. Stylebooks and Style • A stylebook is a handbook for writers and editors. All newspapers and magazines and all radio and television stations have individual sets of rules and guidelines their employees use in writing and scripting news stories. • These rules and guidelines are like a constitution; they are the governing principles for the style, or the way in which writing is to be crafted, in that newsroom.

  5. Stylebooks and Style cont. • Stylebooks specify the way in which dates, numbers, titles and other variable things should be written by the publication or station. • These guidelines keep the writing or speaking style consistent within a publication or broadcast. • Consistent style is one way to create and maintain the overall image of a publication or station. Readers and viewers like consistency.

  6. Stylebooks and Style cont. • Reporters, too, like consistency. If there is a rule for the way a person should be addressed in a story, for example, the reporter doesn’t have to waste time researching how to write each name. • Unfortunately for reporters, there are no rules to answer some of the questions that arise in writing news. • In those cases, the publication or station should decide on one solution to the problem and handle it the same way each time it occurs.

  7. Standard Style and Special Situations • Some style rules are almost universal for newspapers and can be considered standard style. • For example, at most newspapers, numbers are written as words up through nine, and numbers 10 and over (all multiple-digit numbers) are written as numerals: one vote, 10 days, 250 people.

  8. Standard Style and Special Situations cont. • Most stylebooks make exceptions for numbers in time, dates, ages, amounts of money and measurements. In these cases, single- and multiple-digit numbers are written as numerals: 6’ 10”; 5-year-old child; Jan. 1, 1999. • Other guidelines vary from stylebook to stylebook.

  9. Standard Style and Special Situations cont. • One example is the rules for how individuals are addressed. In some publications, courtesy titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms.) always appear before names. In other publications, the person’s first and last names are used without a courtesy title the first time the person is identified, and a courtesy title is used for women’s names thereafter. The trend is to omit courtesy titles altogether.

  10. Standard Style and Special Situations cont. • Almost all stylebooks recommend the use of professional title the first time a person is named: Dr. Jinshi Tsao, Rev. C. J. Willis, Gov. Christie Whitman. • Most stylebooks agree that the first time someone is identified, the person’s first and last names should be given, and that whenever the person is named again just the last name is used. People like Cher, Madonna and Prince, who use only one name and no courtesy title, are addressed according to their preference.

  11. Standard Style and Special Situations cont. • Rules differ from print style to broadcast style, too. In broadcast, where each word takes time to say in a news show with a limited number of minutes, some titles and words are more abbreviated than they are in print where the space available is more flexible. For instance, print style generally uses middle initials, but broadcast style uses middle initials only when the person commonly includes them (Michael J. Fox). Middle names, when commonly used by the individual, are used in both print and broadcast style (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

  12. Scholastic Style • Each school publication or station has special situations that call for style decisions. The style guidelines for school media, for instance, often call for the use of courtesy and professional titles: Miss Garcia, Mr. Beck, Professor Koloski. This keeps the school media consistent with the environment in which teachers are addressed by the title as a matter of respect.

  13. Scholastic Style cont. • Titles may precede or follow a name, or both sometimes. However, if two titles are used, make sure they do not say the same thing. For example, Dr. McGahan, Ph.D., literally says Dr. McGahan, doctor. It is redundant. Also avoid multiple titles or job descriptions before names, as they can be awkward: • chair of the chemistry department and woman’s soccer coach Dr. James McGahan • art teacher and business club sponsor Mrs. Martinez

  14. Scholastic Style cont. • To eliminate such awkward constructions, place the professional title before the name and the job descriptions after the name: • Dr. James McGahan, chair of the chemistry department and woman’s soccer coach. • If a job description is a form of address and takes the place of a courtesy or professional title, it may be placed before the name: • Coach James McGahan

  15. Scholastic Style cont. • The use of job descriptions should be specified in the stylebook, especially for school media in which individuals are commonly addressed by job description: • Superintendent Davis, Coach Romo • If the information is used as a job description rather than a title, it should be placed after the name: • Dr. James McGahan, women’s soccer coach • Mr. Joe Davis, superintendent • Mr. Jorge Romo, coach

  16. Scholastic Style cont. • The stylebook should indicate which title should be used in specific references or whether all titles are to be used in every story. • If the story is about Dr. McGahan’s addressing the school board with a request for a new chemistry lab, it would be more important to know he is chair of the chemistry lab than that he coaches soccer. Thus, he would be referred to as Dr. James McGahan, chair of the chemistry department. • If the story is about the soccer team’s winning the district tournament, it is more important to know he is the coach. He then should be referred to as Dr. James McGahan, women’s soccer coach. In either case, one job title could be omitted.

  17. Scholastic Style cont. • Professional titles should be used the first time individuals are named except when they are replaced by another title more appropriate to the story. For example, Coach James McGahan could replace Dr. James McGahan in a story about soccer. • Consistency is the key. It is not as important which style for titles is used as it is that the selected style be used consistently.

  18. Scholastic Style cont. • Another style rule school media need to specify is the use of acronyms for the names of school organizations. The staffs should decide whether they will use the full names of school organizations or use acronyms. • An acronym may always replace the name of the school, or the name may be written out the first time and the acronym used thereafter: Thompson Valley High School, TVHS. The stylebook should also specify whether periods are to be used in acronyms.

  19. Scholastic Style cont. • Capitalization can be another tricky style area. Many stylebooks capitalize proper nouns and the names of legal holidays, but the school newspaper may need a style rule about which school activities will be considered holidays. • The staff may decide that Homecoming, Prom and other special celebrations are the school’s equivalent of legal holidays and should be capitalized in its publications.

  20. Scholastic Style cont. • Style guidelines chosen by staff should be written out and distributed as a part of the publications manual or as a style sheet. • Everyone should use the guidelines in writing and editing stories.

  21. Working With Words • Words are the tools a writer uses to tell a story. Chosen carefully and used creatively, words are powerful tools. Even though television adds colorful moving pictures and radio uses sound effects and speakers’ voices to interpret their stories, these media depend on words to tell the facts. Print journalists may have the luxury of using more words than broadcast journalists to tell their stories, but all must choose their words carefully to achieve the most interesting and understandable stories.

  22. Working With Words cont. • The words a writer chooses do more than tell they story. In journalism, the words can establish the writer’s reputation as a credible reporter who cares enough to get all the facts and report them accurately and fairly, or they can give the writer the reputation of being a careless reporter who doesn’t do the job that the employer and the audience have a right to expect. A few misspelled words or inaccurate presentations of facts can destroy a reporter’s reputation and damage the image of the publication or station.

  23. Check Spellings • Misspelled words are the first thing a reader notices in a newspaper, yearbook or magazine, and they are the greatest liability to a reporter’s reputation. • Editors hold correct spelling in such high esteem that they often give spelling tests as part of a job interviews for reporters.

  24. Check Spellings cont. • Editors and readers equate spelling skills with good reporting and think a reporter who misspells words may not check their facts either. They begin to mistrust everything the reporter writes. • Word processing programs with spell-checking capabilities have made it easier to find and correct spelling errors. Writers using computers should make it a habit to spell-check every document before considering it complete.

  25. Check Spellings cont. • The spell-checking feature may give writers a false sense of security. Words may be spelled correctly and still be misused. • Common among these are the homonyms their/they’re/there, to/too/two and whose/who’s.

  26. Check Spellings cont. • The spell-checker won’t detect incorrect homonyms, because the word may be spelled correctly but be misused. The following are two examples: • Mary Walley, whose competed in 12 All Star Golf tournaments, said the tournament has blossomed since it began in 1984. • The artists will be displaying there work in the park.

  27. Check Spellings cont. • Typographical errors, such as transposing the o and the n in on or no, result in correctly spelled words but nonsensical sentences. So does substituting an r for an f, creating or rather than of: • The student couldn’t decide if they should tell a teacher of keep it to themselves. • The teacher placed the book no the desk.

  28. Check Spellings cont. • Leaving out a letter can create a correctly spelled word—and spell disaster: • AMES, Iowa (AP)—An error in the Iowa State University yearbook has made geeks out of Greeks. The title page of a section on fraternities and sororities refers to “geek houses.” Yearbook officials were printing up 200 correction stickers to be placed over the misspelled word. Those books will go to Greek houses. (Omaha World Herald) • Using spell-checking programs does not take the place of using a good dictionary. A dictionary is a vital resource for checking spellings and exact word meanings.

  29. Choose the Correct Word • Using the correct word is as important as getting the facts straight or spelling the word correctly. One incorrectly used word may distort the meaning of the whole story. Look at the following example: • After a four-hour public hearing, the city planning commission passed the resolution with one descending vote. • Descending means “to go down.” The reporter should have used dissenting, which means “to vote against.”

  30. Choose the Correct Word cont. • Now consider this example: • The Commission on Presidential Scholars is a group of imminent private citizens appointed by the President. • Imminent means “impending” and is usually used with words like danger or evil. Eminent, which means “of respected position or character,” is the correct word.

  31. Choose the Correct Word cont. • Homonyms like fowl and foul and red and read create amusing pictures—and major mistakes—as the reporters who wrote these sentences discovered: • The police said they suspect fowl play. • Sophomores red more books than juniors and seniors combined in the reading contest.

  32. Choose the Correct Word cont. • Sometimes words that are not homonyms but that have similar pronunciations are mistaken for each other: • The judge ordered the courtroom clothes to cameras. • She folded her arms and looked on in discuss.

  33. Choose the Concise Word • Choosing the correct word also means using the most concise word that conveys the correct meaning. In general, if there is a simpler or shorter word that means the same thing, use it. If there is a shorter way to say it, do so.

  34. Choose the Concise Word Examples

  35. Choose the Concise Word • Readers will not be insulted if writers use simple words and simple sentences. Instead, they will be grateful that they can read a story quickly and understand precisely what happened. • Choose the simpler word if it works, but keep the more sophisticated word if the shorter word changes the intended meaning.

  36. Choose the Concise Word cont. • For example, immediately could be changed to soon, now or as soon as possible. Frequently could become regularly or often. However, none of the similar substitutes implies the same urgency as immediately. • Something that occurs frequently may not occur at regular intervals, but it may occur more regularly than often implies. If a word is necessary to the meaning, use it.

  37. Choose the Concise Word cont. • Specific words paint complete pictures and give clearly defined facts: 45 percent, rollerblading and opera. Weasel words are vague and generic. They’re called weasel words because they weasel out of saying anything meaningful, for example: some, fun, a lot, and music. Examples: • “I had a lot of fun,” she said. • The freshman had an unusual look on his face. • There are manyvarious organizations for students to join. • “I’m going to do stuff with my friends.”

  38. Choose the Concise Word cont. • How much is a lot? What is fun? How does unusual look? How many are many? Is many different than various? What is stuff? • Even in quotations, these words don’t tell the reader anything. The reader’s definition of fun or doing stuff might be very different from the speaker’s definition.

  39. Choose the Concise Word cont. • Readers want to know more specifically what the speaker or writer means. If someone you are interviewing says “I had a lot of fun,” ask that person, “What made it fun?” or “Can you give me an example of fun?” • Quotations can just as easily give information that will help readers understand the speaker’s intent.

  40. Choose the Concise Word cont. • Here are some quotes with genuine substance: • “I enjoyed meeting the 18 other candidates and hearing about their experiences as participants in the Harvest of Harmony parade,” Central High School candidate Angie Vaga said. • Students may choose from over a dozen organizations, including FHA, DECA, Spirit Squad, National Honor Society, VICA and Science Club. • “I’m going to Creation Station, which is an indoor skateboard park with hip-hop concerts. I’m going to spend four days with my friend.”

  41. Choose the Concise Word cont. • Each word a writer chooses must be the precise word that conveys the intended meaning. If a word doesn’t do the job, such as fun, stuff, or many, the careful writer throws it out and finds a better word or a more descriptive quote.

  42. Place Modifiers Carefully • Choosing the best word also means using the word correctly and placing it properly in the sentence. Misplacing or omitting a modifier can alter the meaning of a sentence and affect the accuracy of a story. • Incorrect: A feature story on eyeglasses mentioned “a German-made frame for men with snakeskin-covered temples.” • Correct: A feature story on eyeglasses mentioned “a men’s German-made frame with snakeskin-covered temples.”

  43. Place Modifiers Carefully cont. • Incorrect: Dr. Laura Marvel told how one woman escaped from slavery during her review of the book. • Correct: In the book review, Dr. Laura Marvel told how one woman escaped from slavery. • Incorrect: She neared, I offered up a winning smile and a cordial hello, then turned back to an absorbing article about a demonic elephant in Reader’s Digest. • Correct: She neared, I offered up a winning smile and a cordial hello, then turned back to an absorbing Reader’s Digest article about a demonic elephant.

  44. Place Modifiers Carefully cont. • Incorrect: Anderson will discuss his experiences as a hostage at the University of Northern Colorado on Friday night. • Correct: Anderson will discuss his experiences as a hostage in Iran at the University of Northern Colorado on Friday night. • Incorrect: As the daughter of country music legend Mel Tillis, one might think making it to the top would be easy for Pam Tillis. • Correct: As the daughter of country music legend Mel Tillis, singer Pam Tillis might have had an easy time making it to the top of the country music charts.

  45. Use Action Verbs • Verbs pack power. Choose vigorous, descriptive verbs in the present tense that help the reader or listener see the action as it happens. Verbs that describe an action precisely such as slide, seize, amble, roar and slam give a clear impression of the activity.

  46. Use Action Verbs cont. • Sportswriter Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press captured Detroit Tigers baseball player Cecil Fielder’s 50th home run this way: • He swung the bat and he heard that smack! and the ball screamed into the dark blue sky, higher, higher, until it threatened to bring down a few stars with it. His teammates knew; they leaped off the bench. The fans knew; they roared like animals.

  47. Use Action Verbs cont. • Fielder may have run the bases, or he may have skipped, walked, strolled, ambled, danced, shuffled, trudged, or strutted. • Each of these verbs shows a distinctly different action. • The tone of the story and the reader’s understanding of the action is different for each verb.

  48. Use Action Verbs cont. • Active verbs pump up scholastic sportswriters’ writing, too. Feel the action in this lead from the U-High Midway, University High School, Chicago: • Digging his cleat into the ground and staring down the pitcher with his big greenish-brown eyes, senior Ben Browning easily cracks a baseball against his aluminum bat, knocking the ball deep into right field.

  49. Use Action Verbs cont. • Sportswriting lends itself to emotion-packed action, but news verbs express action, too. Bombs explode, causing airplanes to plummet from the sky gutting buildings and sending mobs surging through streets. Here’s an active front-page lead from the Bruin News, Twin Falls, Idaho: • Next Friday and Saturday, some of the best high school track athletes in the nation will hurdle themselves toward Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.

  50. Use Action Verbs cont. • The exception to the suggestion that writers use colorful verbs is said. Using substitutes for said when attributing a quote implies emotion or emphasis on the part of the speaker, as in exclaimed, stated, explained, chided, mused or barked. • The writer’s job is to relay the speaker’s words to the reader or listener and let that person interpret how the words were said. Stick with said for attribution.