I’m a sucker for lists, especially lists for journalists. So I had to read the 25 commandments for journalists posted by a former editor of the Guardian. Tim Radford’s “manifesto” is a useful reminder of what really matters in journalism, and it’s not today’s cool tools, as much fun as they are.
Radford reminds us all of the basics–the importance of finding a focus before you write and of respecting the meaning of words–but he does it in his own special way. Here’s a selection of 10 of his handy rules.
10. “A story will only ever say one big thing.” This from a print guy, who often had lots of space to explain complicated science stories. Focus is critical. No matter how much good information you have, don’t try to cram it all into one story.
11. “Don’t even start writing till you have decided what the one big thing is going to be, and then say it to yourself in just one sentence.” See if you can do it in just six words. A story with a clear focus makes more sense.
20. “English is better than Latin. You don’t exterminate, you kill. You don’t salivate, you drool. You don’t conflagrate, you burn.” And as I learned early in my career, a fire is a fire, not a blaze.
17. “Metaphors are great. Just don’t choose loopy metaphors, and never, never mix them.”
22. “Beware of all definitives,” he warns. Don’t write that something is first, last, biggest, oldest or any other superlative without attribution.
8. “Life is complicated, but journalism cannot be complicated.” Keep it simple, stupid.
4. “Journalism is important,” Radford writes. “It must never, however, be full of its own self-importance.” Neither should journalists.
7. “If in doubt, assume the reader knows nothing. However, never make the mistake of assuming that the reader is stupid.” In other words, don’t overestimate what your audience’s knowledge and don’t underestimate their intelligence.
My two favorite commandments are quotes that Radford suggests are worth hanging up next to your desk.
5. “No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.”
6. “Nobody has to read this crap.”
He’s right, you know. Worth keeping in mind.
[Thanks to Doug Fisher’s Common Sense Journalism for pointing me to Radford’s rules.]