EIJ Day 2: Bad News Writing

We’re sharing highlights from the Excellence in Journalism national conference. Follow @spjonadepaul on Twitter for more journalism news and tips!

By Erica Carbajal

On day two in Baltimore for EIJ 2018, the “Bad News Writing: The no good, the bad and the ugly” session led by radio journalist Christopher Cruise served as a good reminder for fellow journalists in the room: write like you talk.

The breakout session started off by highlighting the “strange” ways we as reporters often talk and write, and how it’s almost like its own language. The audience poked fun at this while watching the “How a local news anchor makes a phone call” video by feature reporter, Kate Welshofer. The crowd laughed and nodded along in agreement at the exaggerated pronunciation and change in tone, recognizing Welshofer’s demonstration of news reporter speaking style in themselves.

Cruise’s presentation then transitioned into the overused phrases and journalism cliches that can be seen in almost any local newscast. “What does an ‘area resident’ mean?” Cruise asked, “Why don’t we just say ‘local resident’?” and the audience laughed in agreement. His favorite though, is “local hospital.” Cruise said he sees this in almost every script that comes across his desk. His simple solution is to write like you talk. “Just say ‘hospital,'” Cruise said, reminding everyone that no viewer or reader will assume a victim was taken to a hospital hours away.

My personal favorite phrase that I hear often, particularly on broadcast news, was “brutal gang rape.” Cruise said “Is there any other kind of gang rape?” reminding members of the field to avoid fillers and tell a story similar to the way you really talk, while maintaining balance and professionalism, of course.

Cruise convinced us to always consult the “Overused Phrase List” when in doubt, and to never reference tragedies as “terrible” again.