donderdag 5 september 2013

The Lighter Side of Journalism

by Hans de Vreij

Have you ever wondered how information can 'leak', or which mysterious persons hide behind the word 'sources'? Here is a mini-dictionary of journalistic jargon.

Anonymous
As in "a source who wishes to remain anonymous". By definition, sources wish to remain anonymous, otherwise they'd lose their job.

Confirm nor deny
The information is correct, but it's a bit early or counterproductive to confirm that officially. As in: 'a Pentagon spokesman could confirm nor deny reports that an all-out attack against Syria was imminent.'

Diplomats
Always used in the plural form, but almost invariably referring to a single diplomat who has been kind enough to answer a question. 'A diplomat', however, is not enough to satisfy discerning editors (or readers), who insist on two independent sources. Hence the plural.

Exclusive
The journalist in question beats the competition and gets the first copy of a new report. Or, the journalist is the first to get the brilliant idea to interview an important person. Also, CNN has a tendency to label everything it airs 'exclusive'.

Hit and Run
Civil servants and diplomats, beware! A 'hit and run' journalist can wreak utter havoc. This is because the culprit does not plan to return to the scene of the crime and can therefore write anything he/she wants.

Leak
Unlike plumbing, information does not leak spontaneously. 'Leaked information' refers to reports that have been deliberately handed over to one or more journalists. The culprit does this because a) he really hates his superior (usually a minister), or b) because a minister really hates a colleague whom he hopes to embarrass with the 'leaked' report.

News
Entire armies of journalists earn a decent living by teaching future colleagues in schools of journalism what news really is. Why bother? You will see when something is real news when CNN devotes a 'Special Report' to it. Better still, when an issue is labeled "Breaking News".

Observers
Among the most favorite words in any juicy article. I can now reveal that the term 'observers' usually refers to the journalist himself or someone in his/her close vicinity, such as a taxi driver, spouse, or a friend.

Public opinion
Journalists love public opinion surveys, especially when the results match their presumptions.

Scoop
Bar the Pulitzer Prize, this is the ultimate goal of every journalist. To scoop the competition means instant jealousy among colleagues or, better still, a pay rise.

Sources
Probably the most abused journalistic expression. More often than not, 'sources' refers to a single person (civil servant, diplomat, expert) who feels compelled to inform a journalist about certain developments. But since the source also has a career to mind, no names can be mentioned.

Are there other words you want to know more about? Let me know! hdevreij [at] gmail

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