"The most important words in journalism"

From GetReligion, a blog that examines the coverage of religion in the mainstream media, these words of wisdom:

It’s a mantra that I have used with my students for years now. Repeat after me: The most important words in journalism are “comma, space, said, space, name, period.”

In other words, mainstream journalism is not supposed to focus on what the writer says, but on clearly attributed information from other people — people willing to be quoted by name, if at all possible. The goal is for the reader to be able to make his or her own evaluation of the quality of the source and the information. That’s the goal, anyway, and it’s a good target at which to shoot.

That’s what I learned when I was studying journalism, lo these many years ago now. And increasingly, it’s a rule that seems to go by the wayside. Instead of specific individuals with specific credentials saying specific things, we get “critics say” or “some people say” or “there is a widespread belief that,” which are, I submit, generally just a sneaky way for the reporter to slip in his or her own opinions.

If you can’t get someone to say something on the record, or find some other source to which you can attribute information, then it doesn’t belong in the news story.

Wouldn’t that make reading the news less frustrating?

Permanent link to this article: https://edwardwillett.com/2007/09/the-most-important-words-in-journalism/

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