Wick Communications

Drop what is unnecessary

In Writing techniques on September 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Guilty as charged. And that may, in and of itself, be an unnecessary journalism phrase (probably “in and of itself” as well.)

This is the genius concoction of a man named Josh Sternberg. If I understand correctly, his tumblr blog grew out of a conversation with a New York Times editor over those phrases that journalists use as a kind-of shorthand. Or really longhand. Sometimes we lean on phrases not found in nature simply because they are at hand, they are tried-and-true and they sound “journalismy.” Here are a few from the blog:

  • “A person familiar with the matter.”
  • “For all intents and purposes.”
  • “Moving forward.”
  • “Serious danger.”

I have a confession to make. I use phrases like these all the time. I’m not proud of it. I think it’s because I read so many newspapers that the darn things just burrow under my skin. I think in these terms. It’s going to take some work, but I’m going to try to notice then and weed them from my own journalistic garden. …

I learned about Sternberg’s project from a Poynter post. I’m going to paste it here and hope Poynter doesn’t mind. It’s pretty funny and uses all 14 unnecessary phrases that were on the blog at the time Steve Myers wrote it.

Freelance writer Josh Sternberg has introduced a new Tumblr, “Unnecessary Journalism Phrases,” a very unique blog that is in the process of calling out the filler phrases in news stories. For all intents and purposes, it’s a stylebook on what not to write. It might possibly be absolutely necessary to writers who are in serious danger of sprinkling meaningless phrases throughout their stories, often because they are not in close proximity to an editor. With examples of the phrases that, to be sure, add little to news stories, each visit to the blog is like a little writing training session that was held on Tumblr. For what it’s worth, it was indeed difficult to include in this post every unnecessary phrase that exists on the blog. At the end of the day, I must ask the question: Moving forward, what unnecessary phrase is next?

Can you spot the unnecessary bits?

— Clay

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