Pet hates of a radio journalist
My old journalism students will probably be LOL-ing themselves silly right about now. Apparently I was notorious for my ‘pet hates’ and there was always something to set my teeth on edge.
They range from everything to clichés and repetition to cluttered and clumsy writing. We’ve all been guilty of them at one point or another, but I’ve learned from them and hopefully helped others to avoid them.
So, in no particular order: my top ten list of pet hates.
1) More than/over.
I had a news director, who’d demand a copy re-write if I got this one wrong. It’s ‘more than’ for numbers and ‘over’ for a fence.
More than 50 people attended the rally. The damage bill is estimated at more than $25,000. The cat went over the fence.
This pet hate is closely related to over the weekend/at the weekend. It happened at the weekend, not over the weekend.
Actually, clichés do serve a purpose. Personally, I don’t have a problem with them if they’re the common vernacular. It’s how we speak.
However, there are some clangers that should be ‘avoided like the plague’ because it’s lazy writing and a waste of valuable air time.
Another sign of lazy writing. How many times can you use a particular term in a story?
If it’s a 3-par story about a fire, it will sound boring if it’s ‘fire’ in every par.
Find another way to write it. Blaze, flames etc. Fire in first par, blaze in second, “it” in third and you’re done.
4) Sloppy grammar
Someone once tried to argue that grammar really wasn’t that important in radio. Fools. It makes all the difference when you’re on air.
When you’re reading a bulletin, you’re actually scanning ahead as you go. If the brain hits something that doesn’t look right, you will stumble on the words you’re actually saying and not what’s coming up.
The brain will also try to make sense of word contractions gone wrong or misplaced apostrophes.
5) What’s an apostrophe among friend’s?
See what I did there? It doesn’t look right, right? It’d work if it came after the ‘s’ , making it ‘possessive’.
Written numbers don’t need an apostrophe. Plurals don’t need an apostrophe.
A supermarket chain recently ran a campaign, promising “1000’s and 1000’s of savings”. I kid you not.
6) The over-use of adjectives
On the whole, you don’t need to use adjectives. Radio news is not the forum for being overly descriptive. Let the story speak for itself.
Do you need to say ‘thick, acrid smoke’ or just ‘thick smoke’? Do you need to say “brutal murder”?
I recently saw a story copy referring to ‘flowing locks’. Really. What’s wrong with ‘hair’?
7) Singular and plural
This one can get the arguments start when we’re dealing with sporting teams.
I have no problems referring to the Australian cricket team, for insistence, in the plural. Yes, there is only one team, but sometimes common vernacular overrides a grammar rule.
But I will always refer to the Liberal or Labor in the singular.
There is a temptation to drop a bit of jargon into a story, especially if it’s a crime story. But unless you’re the expert, it can come across as try-hard.
The offender did not “decamp on foot”, they ran off or took off. Leave cop-speak for the cops.
Paraphrase the police to make it relatable. That also goes for medical/science/financial stories.
9) Copying and pasting AAP
Lazy. Keep in mind that AAP copy is often written by former print journos for print, not for radio. The language is more formal than we’d normally use, especially on FM.
It should be rewritten with your target market in mind. It should be rewritten to make YOU sound different from your competitors.
10) Clutter and over-worked copy
Rule of thumb when writing for radio: keep it tight and bright.
If you can’t say it in 3 or 4 pars, go back and rewrite it. Over written copy is boring and is often hard to deliver cleanly.
Obviously, there are events of significance when the 3-par rule is thrown out the window, but that’s no excuse to over write it.
I have more ‘pet-hates’ that irritate. A plethora of them. And don’t
get me started on sales messages in news or smaller and smaller windows for news.
However, these ‘top ten’ are good to bare in mind when about to write the news.
Nikole Gunn has 20+ years in radio and is the former DMG Melbourne news director.