Words Journalists Use That People Never Say

February 8, 2012

Confession time: I used all these hackneyed words and phrases during my nearly 20 years as a news reporter and editor.

But that doesn’t make it OK. Like many journalists, I often got lazy with words. I took the easy way out. I didn’t think. I hedged.

Here are some obnoxious examples of journalese … all from the Star Tribune. I don’t mean to single out the Strib. It’s just local and handy. I could’ve picked on any of my former employers — Minnesota Public Radio, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the New York Daily News or the Dallas Morning News — or just about any other media outlet. They’re all butchers.

As a gag, I sometimes use throwaway journalism jargon with my kids. To illustrate how absurd these words sound in real life, I’m listing actual examples from the Star Tribune, followed by how Journo Dad might sound around the house.

Strib: “Construction activity last year was slightly better in 2011 than 2010, largely because of an increase in apartment construction.”

Journo Dad: “I’m largely done with fixing dinner.”

Critics contend
Strib: “Critics contend that young, developing businesses and smaller websites could be saddled with expensive litigation costs.”

Journo Dad: “Critics contend that you kids don’t hop into the tub when you’re supposed to.”

Strib: “Police arrested a 22-year-old St. Paul man Sunday in connection with the death of another man, apparently after an altercation.”

Journo Dad: “I don’t want you kids getting into an altercation over who goes first.”

Alex with newspaper

My daughter Alex learning bad writing habits.

Strib: “His former campaign manager David FitzSimmons, whom Brodkorb also fingered with blame, said Brodkorb can have his own opinion but that he has no position in the party now.”

Journo Dad: “So, you’ve been fingered with eating a cookie before dinner.”

Strib: “The blaze is believed to have started in the living room of one of the lower-level apartments.”

Journo Dad: “Heckuva a blaze I built there, eh?”

White stuff
Strib: “For the rest of us, it’s only a matter of time until the white stuff flies.”

Journo Dad: “Let’s go out and play in the white stuff”

Strib: “A high-ranking Minneapolis police officer who was caught up in an internal corruption probe has filed a lawsuit against the department.”

Journo Dad: “Time to launch a probe into that missing Halloween candy.”

Express concerns
Strib: “Jensen was one of about 50 Stillwater neighborhood residents who packed City Hall Monday night to express concerns about the proposed expansion.”

Journo Dad: “I’m expressing concerns that it’s past your bedtime.”


It doesn’t have to be this way. With a bit of thought — a few seconds, say — writers can avoid most of these words and phrases. As an adjunct instructor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, I compiled a list of pet-peeve words for an introductory reporting class.

Here’s the list, followed by easy and understandable alternatives.

fled on foot = ran away
high rate of speed = speeding
physical altercation = fight
verbal altercation = argument
reduce expenditures = cut costs
terminate employment = fire
reduction in service = layoff
blunt force trauma = injury
discharged the weapon = shot
transport the victim = take him/her
lower extremities = legs
officers observed = police saw
at this point in time = now
express concerns = complain
incendiary device = bomb
obtain information = ask or interview
deceased = dead
sexual relations = sex
roadway = road
fail to negotiate a curve = missed a curve
determine a course of action = consider options
vehicle = car or truck
citizen = person
individual = man or woman
commence = begin
emergency personnel = police, firefighters
utilize = use
complainant = victim
fatally injured = killed
motorist = driver
juvenile male/female = teen boy or girl
respond to the scene = arrive
precipitation = rain, snow
purchase = buy
intoxicated = drunk
controlled substances = drugs
appendages = arms, legs
contusion = bruise
head trauma = head injury
laceration = cut
provide leadership = lead
obstruct = block, get in the way
came to the conclusion that = decided, figured out
arrived at a decision = decided
reside = live



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