Author Topic: Does "journalese" afflict Philippine journalism?  (Read 14814 times)

Gerry T. Galacio

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Does "journalese" afflict Philippine journalism?
« on: May 19, 2019, 10:30:08 PM »

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A. Definitions, characteristics, and effects of “journalese"

1. In “The Press Gang: The World in Journalese” at (The Institute for Cultural Research, 2000), Philip Howard says that “the term is a put-down, not a compliment.” He then cites two definitions of the term:

Oxford English Dictionary: “The style of language supposed to be characteristic of public journals”

Webster: “English of a style featured by use of colloquialisms, superficiality of thought or reasoning, clever or sensational presentation of material, and evidence of haste in composition, considered characteristic of newspaper writing.”

2. From “Journalese” (ThoughtCo) by Richard Nordquist:

Journalese is an informal, often pejorative term for a style of writing and word choice found in many newspapers and magazines.

“In general,” said Wilson Follett in Modern American Usage, “journalese is the tone of contrived excitement.” William Zinnser calls it “the death of freshness in anybody’s style” (On Writing Well, 2006).

3. From “Book strives to make journalese crystal clear” by Rob Kyff:

“This is journalese — a bland paste of buzzwords, jargon and overused words served up by newspapers, TV stations and websites every day.”

4. From "Ease off the ‘journalese’” at by Paula Larocque:

This is journalese: stock words and phrases that slip from the keyboard into a news story without engaging the brain of the writer. Because journalese requires so little thought, clogging a story with it can be quick and easy. But such stories don’t sound so much like stories as they do warmed-over reports. Nor do they sound like speech. They sound like what they are: a collection of clichés written to a template.

5. From “Journalese, A Dictionary for Deciphering the News” by Paul Dickson and Robert Skole:

[Journalese is] “the particular code in which journalists report a story. It is a pattern of language—a jargon—that never appears in normal conversation.”

6. From “Getting an inside look at reporters’s shorthand” (The Berkshire Eagle) by Andrew Amelinckx:

As a newspaper reporter, I’ve been guilty of using journalese — the definition given in the book is “the particular code in which journalists report a story a jargon that never appears in normal conversation.”

These words and phrases are so common because they are a type of shorthand, and can be a time saver when a reporter is trying to make deadline, but are also a lazy way of telling a story.

7. From “Fluent in Journalese” at (The New York Times) by Philip B. Corbett:

Meet journalese: a strained and artificial voice more common to news reports than to natural conversation.

Take note the next time you encounter a piece of Times writing that sounds especially fine — you are unlikely to encounter any journalese. The tone is natural and unforced, but fresh and intelligent.

8. From “Wordplay: Columnist probes journalistic clichéss” (The Sydney Morning Herald) by David Astle:

Journalese is the catchall term, a euphemism for hack-speak, the reflex clichés recycled by humble scribes, with humble scribe being high on the list. In newspaper land, pleas are usually heartfelt, mixes are heady, attacks are withering, while innocent bystanders are destined to look on in horror.

9. From “Clichés & journalese” (The BBC News Style Guide):

Journalese comes from newspapers, which have developed a particular style to meet their own needs. Some of them have moved a very long way from standard English. Some journalists assume that newspaper English is the language of all journalism. It is not. Broadcast journalism, written for the ear, requires a different approach. Our writing has to be simpler, clearer and more natural.

Journalese is a specialist form of cliché writing. People who use it presumably want to sound urgent, to make an impact and to be, well, journalistic. Even though you are a journalist, whether in the field or in
the office, try to avoid it.

10. From “Political clichéss fill airwaves during conventions” at by Christopher Jones-Cruise:

Writing in clichés is often faster than writing clearly and conversationally.

I get it. We’re dealing with time pressures. But this kind of writing puts up a barrier between us and our readers, listeners and viewers.

11. From “Let’s ditch the journalese” at by Mary Cox:

The American Heritage dictionary defines journalese as “the style of writing often held to be characteristic of newspapers and magazines, distinguished by cliches, sensationalism, and triteness of thought.”

We see plenty of journalese in print, but it sneaks into television news copy and onto our websites too.

12. From “Avoiding fad, clichés and jargon” at by Paula Larocque:

Journalese is hackneyed media expression that depends upon journalistic clichés so overused that they amuse more than they communicate.

Journalese also gives us an overworked vocabulary—verbs and nouns such as fueling or spurring or sparking or targeting or skyrocketing or spiraling or escalating . .

13. “There is no ease in journalese” (Detroit Free Press) by Joe Grimm:

We write journalese out of habit, sometimes from misguided training, and to sound urgent, authoritative and, well, journalistic. But it doesn’t do any of that. Part of journalese is in the words; part is in the construction.

B. Elements of “journalese”

1. Words, phrases, expressions that have become clichés

2. Sentence constructions that lead to complexity and confusion

3. Style of expression that does not reflect the way that ordinary people speak or write

C. Some examples of “journalese" or words, phrases, expressions that have become clichés

1. From “200 journalism cliches — and counting” (Washington Post) at

At first glance (or worse, “at first blush”)

As a nation (or worse, “as a society”)

Upon deeper reflection (why not reflect deeply from the start?)

Observers (unless referring to people actually sitting around watching something)

[Person] is not alone (from anecdote to generalization, we get it)

And [someone/something] is no exception

Pundits say

Critics say (or “critics are quick to point out”)

2. From “Clichés & journalese” (The BBC News Style Guide):

glaring omission, bated breath, weighty matter, blissful ignorance, bitter end, hot pursuit, breakneck speed, sweeping changes, daylight robbery, whirlwind tour, brutal reminder, marked improvement, foregone conclusion, strife torn, wreak havoc, open secret, luxury yacht, cherished belief, gory details, deafening crash, blazing inferno

3. From “Journalese, A Dictionary for Deciphering the News” by Paul Dickson and Robert Skole:

arguably, claim, cycles of violence, firestorm, fledgling, frantic search, frenzy, hero, high-speed chase, highly respected, Machiavellian, noted authority, presumably, punishing, raw data, sketchy, unconfirmed

D. Examples of sentence constructions that lead to complexity and confusion

“There is no ease in journalese” (Detroit Free Press) by Joe Grimm at discusses three “contorted constructions” that lead to journalese:

- time element and verb

- time element with nouns

- adverbs with compound modifiers

E. Examples of style of expression that does not reflect the way that ordinary people speak or write

1. Read the example in “Avoiding fad, clichés and jargon” by Paula Larocque at

2. Read the examples from "Let’s ditch the journalese” by Mary Cox at

F. Questions/issues:

1. Who decides when a word, phrase, or expression has become a cliché?

The Washington Post is a prestigious newspaper, but can we trust its judgment on what it considers as journalistic clichés?

As The BBC News Style Guide says, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison, and one man’s list of clichés might be another man’s list of useful sayings and phrases."

2. Are the examples of journalistic clichés from the articles that I cited above also found in Philippine newspapers?

Or, are there clichés that are unique only to Philippine newspapers?

(If there isn’t one yet, perhaps it might be a good idea of putting up a list of Philippine journalistic clichés.)

3. Do our college departments of journalism and mass communications teach their students about journalese and how to avoid using it?

4. Some newspapers are described as catering to the A-B audience, with others (tabloids?) catering to the C-D audience. In your experience, which newspapers use a lot more journalese — those that cater to the A-B audience or to the C-D audience?

5. Another element of journalese is “sentence constructions that lead to complexity and confusion.” As you can read above from the Detroit Free Press article, there are only a few examples of these constructions — time element and verb, time element with nouns, and adverbs with compound modifiers.

Do you know of other sentence constructions that lead to journalese?

Or, is it more accurate to say that the common examples of bad, ineffective writing can also be classified as journalese? (For examples: using long, complex sentences instead of one idea-one sentence structure; placing embedded clauses or interruptive phrases between the S-V or between V-O.)

In other words, is journalese the opposite of “Plain English”?
« Last Edit: January 26, 2020, 03:14:11 PM by Gerry T. Galacio »