Fairfax newspapers

There’s a whole language journalists and editors use to report the news. And while it might make sense to those in the know, some of the words and phrases used can be opaque to readers. So we’ve compiled a handy guide to some of the most common jargon, phrases and euphemisms, to help you navigate the news.

‘Exclusive’

The exclusive can mean different things to different publications. In the strictest sense, an exclusive story is something that no other publication has, or would have. This could be down to contacts, expert knowledge, or a long investigation. But, for some outlets, it might be that they have an interview that adds to an ongoing story, or one detail more than other organisations reporting the same story. For television reports, it’s often the pictures or video that are exclusive, if not the whole story. The exclusive tag will also be given to political drops — i.e. when a pollie’s office gives an outlet (usually a newspaper) the heads-up on an announcement they’ll be releasing to everyone eventually. And then, for some outlets, it’s just something no one else has published yet, like a court story or an angle they’ve found in some parliamentary documents. 

‘… documents obtained …’

This usually means one of two things: either the reporter asked, or applied for documents to be released (e.g. from a court, or under freedom of information laws), and they were provided; or, an insider has handed them over to the reporter.

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‘[Publication] can reveal …’

The journalist has something new to report — it could be something from documents obtained (see above), something they’ve found out by scouring documents, or maybe something in an “exclusive” press release.

‘Senior [party name] sources’

This attribution can mean different things depending on the reporter, publication and how the “sources” would like to be identified. A senior source doesn’t always mean a politician, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a minister or MP with a portfolio. And, usually, the people they’re talking about know who it is anyway. (See also: “well-placed sources”.)

‘Death not considered suspicious’

This is a sad one, but tells the reader that a death they’re learning about is considered to be suicide. This is an example of accepted media reporting guidelines around suicide, where you don’t generally report that a person has died by suicide, or, if you do, anything to do with the specific method.

‘Assisting police with their inquiries’

Police-speak can often creep into crime reports, so when the cops don’t want to say someone is a suspect, but do want the public to know they’re doing something about the case at hand, this is the phrase they’ll use (and the media will repeat).

‘Arcane rules’

A phrase usually employed when a quirk of the law or procedure will take too many words, or the reporter doesn’t know how to explain it.

‘Special investigation’

In these days of tight resources, a special investigation can be anything from a months-long investigations by dedicated reporters, to having a reporter spend a day on copy for a double-page spread in one of the tabloids, or special access given to a TV crew.

‘Could not be reached for comment’/’did not respond to a request for comment’

A euphemism, meaning “This story was already written when we put in a request for a comment, which we made last minute because we suddenly got worried about balance”.

‘Notorious’

There are probably some very juicy stories about a person with this descriptor, but they’re too defamatory to publish.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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