All journalists are guilty of slipping into cliché mode. Consciously or sub-consciously we reach for well-worn words and phrases in a quest to succinctly sum up the point of the story and to place an emphasis on the bits of our copy that we’re trying to flag up as important.
I was probably as guilty as anyone of using some of these clichés – sometimes referred to as journalese – in my copy so I’m certainly not going to judge anyone. A colleague once told me ‘it’s always a crackdown with you isn’t it?’ after a series of stories in which the council or police had announced a new measure. Crackdown, chiefs and boffins were probably my favourites and we were all fans of sneaking the word ‘trousered’ in copy in place of paid or earned when I first started in journalism.
However, some of these really are rubbish. So, for a bit of fun, here’s my list of cringeworthy clichés that I couldn’t stand…
It probably dates me to say this but pretty much every picture caption involving young footballers when I was a reporter used the term ‘budding Beckhams’. It wasn’t constrained to this alliterative use though, and is one of those classic clichés that you barely ever hear or see used outside of a newspaper.
Best foot forward
Any marathon runner or charity walker was ripe for the ‘best foot forward’ treatment in their write up. This falls into the twee doesn’t-really-mean-anything, ‘end of the TV news’ part of the cliché spectrum. One editor banned us from using it ‘unless the person actually had one mangled foot’. He also said ‘green-fingered’ could only be reserved for anyone with a mouldy digit and ‘flocked’ was only allowed for a group of birds.
I think it’s a bit of a myth that journalists love puns. They love witty wordplay and original puns, but there’s plenty of tired old tripe that belongs in the bin. The worst examples always seem to rear their ugly head at Easter – with ‘eggs-cellent’ being the chief culprit. No matter how hard you tried, there was always the danger that a sub would sneak one in.
‘Calls have been made’
Some clichés become an unimaginative way to start a story, often if you’re in a rush, a grump or both. So, ‘calls have been made for the council to…’ can become a hackneyed way to tackle a story involving the local authority instead of actually making it about the people and the problem. It’s one step away from actually starting with the name of the council – a sure fire way to get everyone to nod off.
How do you write a story when you don’t really know what’s going on? Reach for the old ‘mystery surrounds’ cliché of course. It’s suitable for anything from a loud noise to a bad smell – stories that go down well online these days – as well as a tale that you’ve struggled to get any detail on and don’t want to admit it (eg ‘mystery surrounds the future of a shop/business’).
The word prestigious is supposed to refer to any award with a particularly high status, yet you’ll often find it used by a journalist who is desperately trying to convince themselves that there’s a point to the story they’re writing. Obscure awards, school prizes and unheard-of competitions can easily be generously deemed ‘prestigious’ if you’re in the right mood.
The use of ‘a local man’ or an ‘insert name of place man’ irritates me. I always used to think that a) if they’re not local then why are we featuring them in the paper in the first place and b) if their location is the only interesting thing about then they must be too dull to warrant coverage.
‘Took to Twitter’
Social media has warranted its own addition to the cliché bank. ‘People took to Twitter to express their anger’ just means that no-one could be bothered to canvass opinion on a story and just found the five daftest bits of nonsense they could take from social media instead. No story that is based solely on tweet or series of tweets really deserves to be taken too seriously anyway, but ‘took to Twitter’ is the clichéd way of making it sound like the people involved did something more grand than type an ill-informed rant while sitting on the toilet.
What about yours? Which journalism clichés did you find yourself using, or which do you hate to see in a story? I’d love to hear your best and worst examples.