A Necessary Characteristic for Journalists: Self-Confidence

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“Reporters indulge in tennis-ball writing and legal jargon because they don’t quite trust themselves to tell in a straightforward way what’s going on.  By sticking to the legal terms, they play it safe” (Cappon 34). 

A common quality seems to be popping up again and again that is necessary for journalists: self-confidence.  Qualifiers aren’t allowed, because it makes the story seem less credible.  Journalists must weave enough of their own voice into their articles as well as quotes.  They must use strong verbs.  They must be assertive and out-going enough to interview and talk to people they have never met before.  And now, they need to be confident enough to explain complicated jargons in everyday, easy to understand language. 

It makes sense that a reporter needs to be self-confident, after all, they are supposed to be the authority.  Yet, at the same time, I can also understand why a reporter would hide behind jargon.  Chances are reporters are not experts in the law field.  Unless they’ve been reporting court cases for years, they probably don’t know much more about it than the average person.

 However, as Cappon points out, it is important for them to simplify it.  If they don’t write it in an understandable manner, no one will read it, so why even bother writing it at all?  Maybe in this case, the best policy would be to get quotes about the case.  Instead of relying on one’s own limited knowledge, the reporter could call a lawyer and ask them to explain what the jargon really means.  Regardless, reporters need to be sure about what they write, because if they’re not, it’s going to be very obvious to everyone that reads their article that they’re not sure what they’re talking about.

As for articles that have leads that begin with "when," I would say that almost none of them do.  Usually the "when" is included within the lead, but it almost never starts it. 

Read more on Cappon’s Chapter 3.     

5 Comments

Josie Rush said:

Ah, so true. Jargon is a little like falling back on cliches--We want that time-tested way to say something, because what if our words aren't good enough. I think it was a good catch by both Cappon and you, that self-confidence is one of the most important things a journalist can add to an article.

Angela Palumbo said:

So what I've gathered from this conversation so far is that journalists are just educated BSers. They have to come off like they are experts on just about everything they ever have to report. I know if I actually became a journalist, I would hate tryig to report on court cases. The language is tough and putting things into laymen's terms does not make it 100% better. Is there anything you two wouldn't want to report on as a journalist?

Greta Carroll said:

Well, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that journalists are BSers. I mean, they do need to research and figure out what they are saying. They can’t just BS or they might get something wrong. However, they aren’t actually experts, so in a way they must act as an authority in something they aren’t actually. But if reporters didn’t act like they knew what they were talking about, who would read their stuff? It may seem a little deceptive, but at the same time, it’s necessary.

As for what I would not want to report on, I would not mind doing legal articles. My dad and brother are both lawyers, I have been running errands, writing letters, answering the phone, etc. for them for years. And while legal issues may sometimes be confusing and complicated, I don’t think you should let it overwhelm or scare you, Angela. I know reporters call my dad and ask him to explain cases to them all the time. The answer for if you don’t understand or know something is easy enough, just get quotes from someone who does. This is the case in any field, whether it be law, medicine, or something else. Talk to an expert and your article will be imbued with their expertise and the fact that you don’t actually know much about the topic will slip away into the trivial background.

However, we can still have our personal preferences, not having much experience doing different types of articles, it’s hard to say which I would dislike or like. I do think though, that I would not want to be stuck writing obituaries all the time. I think it would get tedious having to make every obituary seem different for the person. Furthermore, it would depress me to constantly be talking to family and friends who have just lost someone they loved.

Josie Rush said:

I agree Greta, it's a bit of a stretch to say that journalists are bsers. And there's a delicate balance to maintain between writing as an authority and putting up a smoke screen. And reader comprehension is so important, I think it's a matter of knowing what kind of jargon is understandable. Basically, it all comes down for choosing your words for a reason.

Ashely Pascoe said:

I completely agree! Word choice is something that every writer needs to decide carefully, especially for journalists because we also have to be careful to not use words that offend our readers.

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