Writing

9 phrases we should stop seeing in tech journalism

  • This reporter” – Just use the first person. It might have worked for Edward R. Murrow, but with tech journalism – particularly blogs – it sounds like a ridiculous affectation. If you wouldn’t say it out loud when retelling a story, don’t write it. (And if you would say this out loud when telling a story, seek professional help.)
  • The company told Acme Publication” – Bullshit. The publication is an abstract entity. Nobody “tells a publication” anything. People talk to reporters, and it’s OK to actually acknowledge that a human exchange took place rather than subsuming the reporter’s place in a story to a drone in the service of a publication. It’s 2012, embrace 1st person voice already.
  • The company said in a statement” – OK, sometimes (but very rarely) there’s an excuse for using this. However, I don’t really care for quoting company statements. Few things scream “rehashed press release” more than just throwing in quotes from press releases/statements. Most publications I’ve written for have strict policies against using quotes from press releases. Either talk directly to the source and try to get more than is in the press release, or just don’t bother quoting them at all.
  • Future plans” – This is just a pet peeve. All plans are future plans. Just say plans. (You also don’t need to indicate that something is your personal opinion. Just say “my opinion,” OK?)
  • Smith believes that” – Really? Are you a psychic? I didn’t think so. It’s impossible for a reporter to know what a source thinks. Maybe the source really believes their company is going to have a great quarter despite losing 2/3rds of their engineering team and having no cash on hand to pay the rest of the engineering team and sales folks. Steve Ballmer may believe that the iPhone has “lost its cool.” More likely, they’re bullshitting you. It’s OK to quote a source saying they believe something, but asserting that they believe something is sloppy.
  • Exclusive” – No one cares.
  • Anything-killer” – I’ve probably done this myself, so mea culpa. But this is so over-used now, and so very often wrong. Mostly, though, it’s the binary nature of the argument that I find most objectionable. It’s possible for two successful products of similar types to co-exist.
  • Is X the New Y?” – No, it’s not. Especially in reference to all the “is X the new Microsoft?” That implies that, you know, Microsoft has stopped being Microsoft, which isn’t at all in evidence. (I suspect even Microsoft would agree with me on that…)
  • Other cliches and over-used phrases – It’s not entirely fair to slam writers for using stock phrases when they’re writing several articles a day. Many tech editors and writers complain about headlines that are over-used are dealing with simple fatigue from reading far more headlines/articles than most people. But, some phrases really do need to be culled. For example, “controversy swirled.” This might have been a dramatic and interesting turn of phrase once, but it’s just tired now.

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