Hows to rite proper

When I was training to be a journalist I had the “5 Ws and an H” drummed into me. (Who, what, where, when, why and how.) When I got my first job I learned how to write in the fine old tradition of British tabloid journalism. (First par is alliteration and puns, ends with “…”, second par begins “For”, third begins “But”, fourth begins “And”, after that fill with quotes.)

Michael Rosenberg at the Detroit Free Press has produced a chortlesome piece of drollery sending up the “rules of journalism”. Here’s his second guideline:

Be balanced. No matter what anybody says, find somebody to say the opposite. If a scientist claims to have a cure for cancer, find somebody who says cancer does not exist. If a man says “My name is Fred,” make sure you find somebody who says “No, your name is Diane.” Etc.

Of course, the real one true guide to journalism is George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. It is compulsory reading for anyone serious about the craft. At its heart are these commandments:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.George Orwell

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These perspicacious principles engage one so effectively that it is to be hoped that they cut through the UGC zeitgeist like butter…


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Filed under Journalism, newmedia

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