Sunday 22 February 2009

Please, No More Clichés!

I've been taught that the key to good news writing for broadcast is: 'If you don't say it at home, don't use it in your scripts'. And yet you'll hear clichés not used by the masses in many news bulletins. Here's a couple of scripts I've invented:

- Jack is being hailed a hero after his friend Tom was scorched in a blazing inferno. It's left Tom fighting for his life in hospital.

- Hundreds of jobs in the motor industry are being axed in a matter of days but in a bold bid to boost productivity the Prime Minister has made a plea to safeguard thousands of jobs across the country. Opposition leaders have struck out at the plan and say a probe should be launched and are calling on MPs to oust the Prime Minister.

Newspapers are full of clichés but what broadcast journalists need to remember is that newspaper English is not the language of all journalism. Scripts for TV and radio should be written for the ear - simple, clear and natural writing.

Journalists who over use clichés think they make stories sound more urgent and have more of an impact with the viewer/listener, but I'd argue that the facts of the story itself should be interesting enough to engage them in the story. If the facts aren't interesting, the story shouldn't go in the bulletin.

I feel an obligation to rid any script I come across of these hackneyed phrases. If and when I'm ever in charge of a newsroom, I'll insist they don't feature: It's lazy journalism and detracts from the meaning of a story.

The best document I've found on this subject is the BBC's Style Guide, which you can download here. Anyone with ambitions to work in broadcast journalism should read it.


  1. Perhaps it's time to introduce a raft of changes. Anything for a sea change, eh?

  2. I agree, but is railing against cliche now a cliche itself? Discuss.

  3. Ah, moderation, eh? What happened to freedom of the press? Web 2.0?? Hmm??

  4. Indeed, let freedom ring! Pre-moderating is the default setting, I'm going to change to post-moderating. Thanks David.

    Railing against clichés is a cliché? Perhaps, but surely the fact that there are still so many in the news means I'm right to express my frustrations.