(Note: This post is not meant to disparage news writers, who work their asses off with little thanks under tight deadlines and constant pressure to get stories filed fast and accurately, like Sisyphus rolling eternal boulders. They also put up with griping anchors who haven’t had their coffee yet. The following is my opinion, and its value is only what you give it.)
When someone says, “It goes without saying,” there’s a 99.99% chance that the following words are the things that they just said goes without saying. “It goes without saying, but news anchors shouldn’t gripe so much.”
But some things really do go without saying, or should go without saying, especially in the news biz. Here are some words this constantly griping, coffee-starved radio news anchor thinks should go without saying. A lot of it is about style and not hard and fast rules – it’s a style I prefer for myself.
English is, after all, a target that is poorly lit.
“Police are investigating a multiple murder” as the lead. Is the investigation the headline? Shouldn’t it be the multiple murder? “Three people have been murdered” is a better lead than “Police are investigating a multiple murder in which three people were killed.” The former is punchy and direct. The latter is cold and stale.
“Police are investigating” or “Police are continuing to investigate” tacked on to the end of a story. Is that news? I think it would be newsworthy only if the police were NOT investigating, as in, “Police are not investigating the triple murder downtown.” If the story is about a recent crime, we can assume that the police are investigating it. The same thing with fires and plane crashes.
Speaking of “continuing” or “continues,” I’ve never liked those words in news stories. I think it’s a subliminal message that this story is not new. Instead, it’s old, slightly used, a little outdated, because the thing we already told you about is continuing. “The search for intelligent dolphins ruling an undersea kingdom continues.” How about, “Intelligent dolphins rule an undersea kingdom, and scientists are trying to find them”?
Excuse me, an intelligent dolphin just walked in and rewrote the above paragraph. Before, it was about a continuing search for a murder suspect. We can assume the search is continuing if the murderer hasn’t been caught. Or else the police have given up, and that would be the story.
“Actually” and “in fact” are words and phrases that my non-dolphin brain doesn’t think belong in news stories. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a story where they helped. One assumes that the entire story is factual – or at least, it should be – and everything mentioned “actually” happened. I think you could go through any story containing those words, remove them, and their absence wouldn’t change a thing.
For some broadcast news writers, all of the above examples are stylistic choices, so your mileage may vary. Me, I like the no-nonsense, “cut unnecessary words because we need to keep the story count up” style. But then, I am an emotionless anchor machine whose only joys are drinking coffee and griping.
Now here’s a terrifically written story: “A news anchor has been murdered. Police say a group of overworked writers are the prime suspects. An autopsy has revealed no coffee in his system.”
(No dolphins were harmed in this post.)