Avoiding the Trap -- Writing Visually vs. Writing in Journalese

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During my reading, I found an interesting tie between a topic covered in Chapter 3 and the general area of Journalese covered in Chapter 5.  The Ch. 3 section titled "Try Writing 'Visually'" says a reporter can avoid writing ineffective leads by "being specific and concrete" and that "a clever phrase, a touch of humor, and an ironic contrast help."  This seemed like good advice for a newbie like me, who often really feels what the book calls "The Agony of Square One." 

However, this advice was somewhat complicated by the discussion of Journalese in Chapter 5.  I could easily see my attempts at being clever or humorous down-spiral into a bad case of Journalese, by relying on "particular catchwords and cliches" and generalizing words and phrases like "called for/on" and "concern(ed)."  Reading these chapters together in one assignment helped me clearly see that skills helpful in writing a catchy and effective lead can, if overused, do more harm than good in the body of an article. 


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» New Ideas, New Skills from JacquelynJohns

Every topic covered in this news writing class has been completely new to me.  Not only has the class introduced a new style of writing that is totally different than anything I've encountered in literature-based writing classes, I've also been... Read More


Corey Struss said:

When writing a lead visually, it helps to use strong verbs that describe the scene just by the way that the verb sounds. Writing visually, with irony or humor can almost guarantee that you'll have a catchy lead.

As for your realization that Journalese is more precedent in your writing than you first thought, I feel the same way. It is hard to avoid, but once you realize you are doing it, it is easy to correct.

Tiffany Gilbert said:

Having "a clever phrase, a touch of humor, and an ironic contrast help" is true. I have read and actually written some fairly boring leads. Dullness doesn't sell, creativity does and the more creative you are with an article draws in more readers who find entertainment in reading the news.
Who woulda thought?

Good point, Jacquelyn. It's hard to find the balance between writing bright and snappy prose and relying on cliches. In high school English classes, you got points for almost any attempt to show style or flash, even if you reach for cliches. Anyway, you've helped draw attention to an important point in the readings. Good job.

Jara White said:

I found the advice in ch. 3 & 5 to be somewhat contradictory. On one hand like you pointed out it says being witty perhaps using an anecdote to catch the readers attention could be a good thing, and then later it goes on to say avoid cliches and metaphors. So really which is it? I can understand not over doing it, but its still frustrating.

Nessa said:

Sometimes I read leads that are sooooo boring, I wonder how it ever made publication. I definetly like the idea of injecting humor or a clever phrase into the lead, but, honestly, sometimes the story just doesn't warrant that type of intro. A story about a car wreck will not be amplified by a witty catch phrase- it wouldn't be proper.

Madelyn Gillespie said:

You make a good point. I know reading both chapters together helped me figure out where and when to draw a line when writing. I'm still trying to sort everything out, so I don't want to fall into a sand trap either.

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