Recently on the @survivetvjobs Twitter line, there was a rather intense conversation about the words “apparently,” “reportedly” and “allegedly.” A journalist argued that these words are fine to use instead of attribution. In fact he argued they are necessary to be conversational, so the copy will not be boring and make viewers turn away.
This debate symbolized a big reason why I created “Survive.” It signaled a lack of training, and a lack of checks and balances in newsrooms across the country. Bottom line, no journalist would think that way and we would never see these words in copy, if they clearly were banned in newsrooms. But they are not. I hear each of these words more times than I can count when surveying newscasts, nationwide.
I can and have discussed why these words do not protect you. For this article I will simply say that if you really think about it, you do not need “apparently,” “reportedly” or “allegedly” if you know the facts are true. For facts we do not know yet, or have partial information about, you attribute to whomever was the expert or authority who told you the partial information. These words are most commonly used in crime stories. You’ve heard them a million times. The robber apparently broke into the store around 3 AM. Does it matter exactly when? The robber broke in before dawn. The robber broke in before the store was crowded. See how I got around apparently easily, with facts I knew? Apparently, allegedly and reportedly tell the viewer you are unclear and are guessing. If the unclear facts seem relevant and you do not know all the details, just say so. We don’t know how this fire started yet. But when we find out we will let you know. That is conversational.
And speaking of conversational, do you walk up to a buddy and say, “Sue allegedly dumped Bob last night?” Nope. Or how about this, “The track shack is reportedly setting up another race?” I don’t think so. Sometimes someone will say “I hear Sue is dumping Bob” and the other person says “Apparently.” That I will give you. But what does it add? How would that improve news copy and keep it from being boring?
Let’s just be straight with each other. “Apparently,” “reportedly” and “allegedly” are not put into news copy to be conversational. They are used as crutches to couch that you do not understand something in the story, or just do not have the information. The use of these words says you are guessing. Educated guess or not, it just sounds sloppy. It’s not conversational. Conversational writing is clear. There is no room for a guess.
Just because you can get away with these words in your copy in your newsroom does not mean you should. Be better than that. You deserve it. Your viewers really deserve it. Attribute or say, we don’t know everything about the story yet. But as we learn new facts, we will tell them to you. Viewers like when the story is still ongoing. They like feeling they are the “first to know” about things that are happening right then. You do not have to know all of the story. But what you do tell, you need to be clear on. Dump the catch phrases, and be direct. Your writing will rock and your viewership will too.