How to Speak Reporter-ese

If you want to be an expert, you need to speak the lingo. Part of communications strategy involves serving as an interpreter when your C-suite leaders deal with the press. You need to know what basic terms of art mean so that 1) you can explain them to your spokespeople and 2) you don’t come across like a dummy to reporters.

Today, we examine a glossary of journalistic terms you need to know. While by no means all-inclusive, this list serves as a good starting point.


Actuality: You know those radio sound bites you hear that last only a few seconds? That’s an actuality.

Assignment editor: This behind the scenes individual is the heart of the newsroom. They decide which reporters cover which stories.

B-roll: Background footage used for cutaways during a video package. If a camera crew comes to you, they may ask you to do seemingly silly things like walk down a hallway or the sidewalk while trying to look natural. They need this footage for editing purposes.

Bumper: A short snippet of video used in TV newscasts that leads into and out of commercial breaks. It’s sometimes used as a teaser to keep viewers tuned in.

Copy: The verbiage turned in by reporters. Editors have been known to scream—either verbally or electronically—“Get me that copy, now!”

Daybook: One of a reporter’s most precious tools, wire services like the Associated Press and Reuters issue daily daybooks that tell where and when newsy events take place.

Editor: The boss of a newsroom. Reporters have been known to tremble at the mere mention of their editor’s name.

Editorial: A column advocating a newspaper’s position on important matters of the day. In most news operations, there is an inviolable firewall between the editorial department and the newsroom. Reporters do not know the contents of the day’s editorials before they are published.

Embargo: When you and the reporter specifically agree to hold a story for publication until a date and time certain. You should use this technique only with scribes that you trust implicitly.

First amendment: The part of the U.S. constitution that assures a free press. It reads, in toto, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Freelancer: A reporter who works for a variety of publications, not employed solely by one. Freelancers may be highly knowledgeable about your issues or may know nothing whatsoever, so conduct some research on them before your interview.

Journalist: A highfalutin word for reporter. Some in the trade like to describe themselves as journalists because it sounds classier. Whatever.

Jump: When a newspaper leads with a story on page one then continues it inside, that continuation is the jump page. It’s a clever means of putting more content on the front page.

Lede: The first sentence or idea of a news article. And no, it’s not a misspelling. The word originated in the 19th Century when newspapers used hot lead type. The typesetters would get confused whether their editors meant the hot “lead” type or the “lead” of the article. Some clever soul decided to change the spelling of the article’s beginning. Now you can regale friends with this bit of trivia at your next soirée.

Media training: A strategic professional development workshop that shows executives how to deal with the press. It should at a minimum cover your messaging and offer mock interviews. It should also include a means of continuing improvement over time.

News director: They run the newsroom. Assignment editors, camera crews, producers, and reporters all answer to them. Title creep being what it is, some local TV news departments now have vice presidents of news; same thing.

Producer: The individual who actually makes decisions about and puts together a broadcast news piece. While the reporter gets all the face time, the producer actually does much of the heavy lifting. You would be wise to establish solid relationships with producers.

Radio media tour (RMT): This takes place when your spokesperson talks remotely with a bunch of radio stations, one after the other. RMTs can be done either by telephone or in a broadcast studio.

Satellite media tour (SMT): You will sit in a studio that is often the size of a broom closet and be interviewed remotely by TV stations from across the country. You’ll stare into a camera while listening to your interviewer through an earpiece (known as an IFB). NB: SMTs can be quite taxing both mentally and physically, so get lots of rest and hydrate well the day before.

Spin: Trying to pull the wool over a reporter’s eyes by spinning them rarely works. Spin is a sin, so avoid it at all costs.

Standup: A television reporter delivering news from the field. It can be a live feed or a segment of a package.

Stringer: Most often a part-time or freelance reporter in a city removed from the home base. For instance, a local newspaper might employ a stringer to follow its Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.

Video news release (VNR): You already know what a news release is. A VNR is done in video form. It often includes a produced ready-for-air piece along with B-roll footage.

Granted, this glossary isn’t the end-all and be-all. What other terms would you like to see included? And how would you define them?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: