1. Putting ‘Gate’ on the end of the name of every scandal: Watergate was the name of the hotel, so it was, uh, the appropriate word to use. Irangate, Squidgygate, Monicagate, and all the others since have not been. They’ve been given a stupid and irrelevant suffix, one which relates to an event which took place over a quarter of a century ago. Is this intelligent writing?
2. UK newspapers calling the police ‘cops’. Use ‘coppers’ if you must. How about the word ‘police’, or in London ‘Met’ if you insist on abbreviating? But don’t pretend to be writing about South Central when it’s actually Lewisham.
3. Made-up nicknames: For example, ‘Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, Rageh ‘the Scud Stud’ Omah, and Gwyneth ‘Gwynnie’ Paltrow. All names which are not used ANYWHERE outside the pages of the press. Stop wasting your time making these names up, and the readers’ time in having to figure out who and what you’re talking about.
4. Articles about scientific or medical advances which end with the statement that scientists or doctors ‘expect it to be available within five to ten years’. It’ll be news then, don’t go boosting the company’s share prices in the meantime. You promised me flying cars back in the 1970s, and I’m still waiting.
5. Using words or phrases which have no existence at all outside of the world of the press: examples would be
- love rat
- baby dash
- death plunge
6. Referring to something sexual as ‘XXX’ : The certificate for ‘adult’ films was changed to ‘R18’ years ago. Catch up, for crying out loud.
7. Headlines which are borderline incomprehensible : these are often created from a string of nouns with no prepositions or verbs, such as ‘Blair holiday cottage fury’. As with the example given, the non-sense of them often leaves them open to misinterpretation.*
8. Writing in a manner which means the reader has to speak journalism-ese instead of English: Sample translations would be as follows:
- (Event) drama – no-one died
- (Event) tragedy – someone died
- (Event) fury – we’ve found a rentaquote MP willing to say any old tripe so we can take an anti- viewpoint on this and pretend many people agree
9. Pretending scientific formulae can be applied to things which are obviously highly subjective: this is a recent-ish phenomenon, and usually takes the form of articles stating that a formula has been found for the perfect joke / scary film / romantic song / cup of tea. Utterly pointless both as a proposition and in execution, these articles invariably reveal their origins in the final lines when they state that the research was carried out on behalf of a company with a vague relation to the subject in question (often satellite TV channels or radio stations, it seems). Yes, these articles are badly rewritten press releases from firms – in other words, adverts masquerading as news. Classy.
10. Making up excuses to show pictures of women: Work for a tabloid and have some pictures of a soap opera cast member in her underwear, but no real reason to publish them? Simple! Just make up a story about her being in line to be the next Bond girl or to appear in Doctor Who, quoting ‘insider sources’! But what if you work for a higher-browed paper, and still need to up the totty factor ? No worry! Just find a picture of Kate Winslet or Keira Knightley attending a premiere in an evening gown and write a paragraph about the state of the British Film Industry ! Or Joss Stone accompanied by a line or two about downloads or something like that. Voila ! Page space filled with a minimum of effort or intellect!
11. The fact that the phrase ‘investigative journalism’ should be tautological, but most definitely isn’t at the present time.
12. Articles in the form of lists because it’s easier to do and fills up space quickly.
*Why not play the Daily Mail Headline game ? It’s easy, and fun for all the family. Simply see how many Daily Mail headlines can be sung to the tune of the song ‘Camptown Races’. Examples on any given day might be ‘Asylum Seeker in Benefit Fraud’, or ‘Police Chief fired over Internet Porn’.
How many can YOU find?