Tim Radford bested Moses by two-and-one-half times. Radford, a former editor at The Guardian, recently came down from his mountain and published his “25 commandments for journalists.” Radford, now a freelance journalist, “worked for the Guardian for 32 years.”
Ad Age commented that “Radford’s list turns out to be valuable precisely because its main focus is readability in journalism.” Overall, the “commandments” recommend focusing on the reader — from understanding that readers don’t have to spend their time reading the news to making sure readers can understand journalists’ work.
First on Radford’s list: “When you sit down to write, there is only one important person in your life. This is someone you will never meet, called a reader.”
Radford reminded that journalists don’t write for the people interviewed, their former teachers or their family. “You are writing to impress someone” in a subway who doesn’t have to read your story, he commented. As Radford explained, no one is obliged to read your story.
To keep journalism from becoming “full of its own self-importance,” Radford advised using “simple words, clear ideas and short sentences” as well as “a sense of irreverence.”
Also, make sure you know what words, phrases and jargon mean before using them, Radford reminded. Use cliches “judiciously” and don’t over complicate metaphors. Further, opt for a simpler word instead of the more complicated term. And, be careful using “definitives.”
“The thing about journalism is that you don’t have to be ever so clever but you do have to be ever so quick,” according to Radford, who also recommended journalists read extensively.
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After all, as Radford’s “fifth commandment” instructs, “No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.”
“The classic error in journalism is to overestimate what the reader knows and underestimate the reader’s intelligence.” Further, journalism shouldn’t be made over-complicated. Expect your “reader knows nothing” about a topic, but don’t write as if your “reader is stupid.”
Radford went on to advise not starting the writing process until you can simply explain what “the one big thing” is in your story.
Other soundbites from Radford’s list include:
- “Good journalism should give you the sensation of humour, excitement, poignancy or piquancy. “
- “Aim for the truth. If that’s elusive, and it often is, at least aim for fairness, the awareness that there is always another side to the story. Beware of all claims to objectivity. “
See Radford’s complete list of advice here.
Hat Tip: Common Sense Journalism