It’s been three years since I left the newsroom at the Austin American-Statesman, after 34 years in a business known to abhor jargon. But for all the times we tugged on our hair decoding jargon-filled reports or impenetrable corporate-speak, journalists proudly perpetuate a lingo all our own.
And out in the freelance world, I discovered that I was one of the worst offenders.
So while I work to help others tweeze jargon from their writing, I’ve had to learn to think twice before tossing around words like “reefer” and “mug shot.”
But, I’ve decided that I’m keeping some newsroom jargon because it’s just so darn useful. Here are a few terms you’ll need to learn if you work with me very often.
A nut graf is that place high in your story where you tell me what you are writing about. A really good idea that would benefit a lot of writers and too good a term to give up.
You can read a lot more about nut grafs and how to make them better at the Poynter Institute’s webpage.
Don’t bury the lede
OK, I’m willing to fix that cute spelling, but unearthing the lead is how I spend a lot of my editing time. so I’m not trashing this phrase. Recently I was helping some IT professionals with an email about “new functionality” they planned to send to about 20,000 users. It was 900 words long, and by the 301st word they had covered deployments, reboots and legal disclaimers without mentioning that Instant Messaging was being added for those 20,000 users. We fixed that and I cut the email down to 180 words to improve our chances that someone would read it.
What a great word. I tried to give it up, but it is just so satisfying to ask my co-worker “What’s your slug?” instead of “What’s the name of your story?” And even if story slugs come from an old lead type reference, I thought this was a great opportunity to show you a slimier version.
Now, tell us, what business jargon wormed its way into your life?
About the author:
Sandra Kleinsasser volunteers with the WCA mentorship committee and edits the monthly Ask-a-Mentor column. She is a former journalist who now enjoys working at a large state agency where she writes and edits digital newsletters for 56,000 employees. In her spare time, she runs WriteAustin.com, developing content for entrepreneurs and small-to-medium businesses. Before taking early retirement in 2011, she was the Executive News Editor at the Austin American-Statesman.