News lingo explained

My husband sometimes is amused when I talk in journalism lingo. He especially laughs at how we spell things, such as “lede” for the lead paragraph for a story.

I know, I know! Journalists are such spelling sticklers, so it’s awfully silly how we spell things in our own newsrooms.

I was going to write up a whole list of journalism lingo, but a quick Google search tells me several other people have done it already, including the Detroit Free Press and Wikipedia. (Of course!)

But each newsroom is different, so I still thought it would be fun to share some of the terms we use at my newspaper:

  • Lede: The introductory paragraph of an article.
  • Graf: Short for “paragraph.”
  • Nutgraf: This paragraph gets to the heart of the matter in your story, often summarizing the big picture for the reader. (My guess is this might be related to the term, “in a nutshell,” as if the writer is telling the whole story in a nutshell in this particular graf. Just my guess!)
  • Hed: Headline.
  • Cut: Short for “cutline,” which most people would call a caption.
  • Wild art: This is stand-alone art, almost inevitably accompanied by an extended cutline that includes the weather forecast. Almost always the wild art is actually “weather art” — images that convey the weather, such as kids splashing in the pool on a hot day or cars plowing through standing water on a rainy day. At my college newspaper, we called this “feature art.”
  • Budget: A quick summary of a story in the works. Also refers to the  master list of stories in the works. I have to file a budget so my editors know about my story and can make the wise decision to put it in the front page lineup.
  • Slug: The filename you give to your story.
  • Folo: A follow-up story. The slug on a follow-up story after a fire might be “FIREFOLO.”
  • Refer: Pronounced “reefer,” this is the little box on a story that suggests you flip to page A12 for more pictures of the fire. Or the refer might tell you to go online for a video about the fire.
  • CQ: Reporters put this in their stories (in note form, so they don’t actually print) to show that they checked each spelling, dollar amount, phone number or other tricky fact. This also is a verb, as in an editor asking a reporter, “Did you CQ all the names in your story?”

OK, journalist friends, I’d love to have you share some of your own favorite journalism terms, especially for my non-journalist readers.

And for my non-journalist friends, have you heard weird news terms that don’t make sense? Share them as a comment and perhaps I can answer.

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24 thoughts on “News lingo explained

  1. At my first paper we called Wild Art poetically, “kidsanddogs”.
    “Josh, get out to Havre de Grace and get some kidsanddogs for Friday’s Record.”
    You could add:
    perpwalk
    ridealong
    fatal, or priority 4
    advance
    chimping
    and of course, the famous Capital Point

    1. Ahh, Josh, excellent suggestions. For those who don’t know, here’s what they mean:

      perpwalk: When the police intentionally walk a suspect through a public area (say, outside the courthouse) so photographers can take their picture and reporters can ask questions. (My favorite such question comes from my friend Jenny: “So what do you have to say for yourself?”)

      ridealong: Tagging along with the police, riding in their cruiser.

      fatal or priority 4: A fatal is a crash or wreck with a fatality. And when our paramedics transport patients to the hospital, they are ranked from priority 1 (high priority, this guy is hurt, better get him to the hospital fast) down to priority 4 (either super-minor injuries, or the person is dead, and therefore, a low priority).

      advance: An advance story previews an event that’s coming up, such as a City Council meeting.

      chimping: This is when photographers check their pictures on the back of the camera as they work.

      Capital Point: “Excuse me, sir, can you show me that interesting thing again?” And as they point, click-click-click-click.

  2. Hey, Pam:

    Being relatively new to journalism (most of my writing came in the form of advertising), but keely aware of useless trivia, I have heard that the misspelling was intentional to differentiate from changing the “leading” (strips held between type blocks for line spacing) to changing the first paragraph. I like that explanation best.

    I still have a hardtime writing “hedshot” for a photo of a head. And I still go from “lead” to “lede.”

  3. I feel really stupid for saying so, but I’ve never heard the phrase “CQ” spoken in any newsroom. Am I missing something?

  4. Pam, this list made me chuckle. Maybe something useful might be to explain inches vs. word counts and why we measure in inches instead. People are always confused when I say I have to turn in at least 25 inches and how I never know how many words it is.

    For the non-journos, a lot of editors will cut non-essential inches of a story if there isn’t enough space. Sort of 10 pounds of junk in a 5-pound sack, something has to go. If my eds have room for only 20 inches of my column, they’ll ask what 5-inch item can be held. (Actually, my stuff usually runs as is, but that’s another discussion topic altogether.)

    To get inches, you take the count of characters including spaces and divide it by 200.

  5. Jennifer- it’s not always 200 characters per inch. My old paper got narrower so we had to learn to go by 186 per inch.

    I’ll add a few–

    Gamer: Short for “game story” or a basic rundown of a sporting event.
    Presser: Short for press conference.
    Gaggle: An informal press briefing involving a relatively small number of reporters.

    1. Tim and Jennifer — I never heard of a formula at all for inches vs. words, so that’s new to me.

      I have to recruit guest columnists for the Our Bay section of The Capital, and I learned I have to give them a word limit of about 800, which roughly translates into a column in the 22-25 inch range.

  6. This is great! Makes me laugh to see some of these names. Are they mispelled purposely so they don’t get overlooked and end up in the final printed paper?

  7. A great list here, so difficult to add more insights but here goes. I’ve always been amused at how people misuse “flag” vs. “masthead,” and for real insiders from a certain newsroom in Annapolis, how about “horrors.”

    1. I can’t believe I forgot horrors! Yes, folks, “horrors” is the nickname for the weekend reporting rotation at my newspaper. It’s when we have a reporter on duty to cover any “horrors” that may arise: murders, fires, fatals, etc.

      For the weekend newspapers, most of the features, profiles, advances, etc. already are written. But at least one reporter has to be on duty over the weekend for breaking news.

  8. Do we have another term for CQ? No. But I have a few terms I like to use when I see my story in the next day’s paper and the facts clearly haven’t been checked.

    But seriously, I have no idea. Maybe it’s because my desk is in OC and the Sby newsroom has all the copy editors. As far as I know, it’s just assumed that every fact by me has been checked when I file a story. Whatever. We’re so shorthanded at this point, I sometimes doubt that copy editors are even on the payroll.

    @Jeff: I am a huge, huge fan of what you said there: People confuse flag and masthead all the time. The flag is the logo atop A1, and the masthead is the list of muckety mucks on the op-ed page, right?

    Anyone seen season 5 of The Wire? Journo lingo is flying in the newsroom scenes, and I’m so glad I’m able to decipher it.

  9. @Brian S – Good to hear that someone else shares my frustration! To put it to rest, straight from “On Reporting the News,” a journalism textbook:

    Flag – The name of the newspaper as it appears on the top of page one. This is often confused with “masthead” (see below).

    Masthead – It lists the newspaper’s ownership, top editors and other officers, place of publication, and bureaus, if any, and usually appears on the editorial page.

    So there!

  10. Forgot “Dog and Pony Show”. An event staged by a politician to trick a reporter into covering something that has no real value except to feature the politician.

  11. One for the cops reporters: MVC, a very shortened version of motor vehicle collision, often only heard on the scanner or from firefighters. also, more on the “priorities” 1 is life-threatening, 2 is serious non-life-threatening, 3 is minor, 4 is deceased.

  12. Tim and Pam,

    When I worked at *ahem, cough* the OTHER Gazette, my editor taught me that trick about inches. It’s usually worked so far, but I didn’t think about the Incredible Shrinking Newspaper Widths. Heh.

    Even funnier is that no one has told me my columns are too long. I’ll have to substitute a smaller number for the 200 to see what I’d get for a smaller column width. Anyone know what Capital Gazette Newspapers’ is?

  13. At the Charlotte Observer, my editor called the nutgraf the ‘shitgraf.’ I thought it was more colorful, and liked that better! For sure, that sticks in your mind more.

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