Jargon Watch: Journalism And The Language Of News

Working for a newspaper requires a lot of very specific skills, one of which is knowing all the journalism jargon that’s out there. Here’s a quick guide to some of the most-used terms!
Journalism Jargon

If you’ve watched a movie about a newspaper, you’ve probably heard some journalism jargon. Like All The President’s Men, or Spotlight, or The Post, or His Girl Friday, or Newsies, or — well, the list goes on. The point is, there are a lot of terms that are used exclusively in newsrooms, and they can be pretty impenetrable to outsiders. Some are very useful, some are kind of silly and some are barely used anymore now that media is slowly shifting away from print.

Journalists love their slang, and that might be why there’s so much of it. Different publications may also use different terms to refer to the same thing. To help you understand it all better, here’s a guide to some of the terms you might hear around the newsroom.

An A-Z Guide To Journalism Jargon

Above The Fold — making it onto the front page of a newspaper is great, but making it above the fold is even better. Because broadsheets are folded in half, only things above the fold are visible when the newspaper is displayed in kiosks and stores

Broadsheet — there are generally two sizes of newspaper. There’s the broadsheet, which is larger and needs to be folded in half. This is most frequently associated with “serious news.” The other is tabloid, which is a bit shorter, and generally used by more spectacular papers, like the New York Post or the Daily Mirror

Budget — this actually has nothing to do with money, but is actually a list of articles that are going into the next day’s paper. Because papers are only so big, the space has to be budgeted, and not everything makes the cut

Bulldog Edition — back when newspapers would have multiple editions per day, the bulldog edition was the very first. It was printed mainly for subscribers who lived far away, because it would need extra time to travel. A Sunday bulldog edition could be printed on the Tuesday before. This sometimes would lead to factual errors, like the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline

Column Inch — in order to make all the articles fit, you need a unit of measure, and that’s the column inch. It’s the length of one inch in a column, so three columns that are four inches tall would be 12 column inches in total

CQ — this is an editor’s mark used by journalists to say “This word may seem like it’s misspelled/misused, but it’s actually correct.”

Dummy — the layout of a page that marks where the text, headline and images will go. Nowadays, it can also be used to refer to the draft of an article online before the actual article text is added

Flag — the name and logo of the newspaper as it’s presented at the top of the front page

Folio — this is what appears at the top or bottom of each page of a newspaper, and it can include the date, the newspaper’s name, page number and section name

Gutter — all of the white space in a newspaper, whether it be between columns or between stories, is the gutter

Leading — the space that occurs between the lines and the paragraphs. It’s pronounced “ledding” rather than “leeding” because it comes from the old process of using lead to space out the paper

Lede — spelled this way so that it’s not confused with the other connotations of “lead,” it’s the first few sentences of the story that grab the reader’s attention and tell them what the story is going to be about. You can also “bury the lede,” meaning you didn’t tell the reader the most important part until later in the story

Masthead — the masthead is the credits for the newspaper, listing all the editors and people who worked on it. It can appear in a number of different places in the paper, but generally shows up on page two

Morgue — a morgue is where a media company will keep all their past issues of the newspaper so journalists can refer to them later. These still exist at some newspapers, but morgues are dying — pun intended — because everything is now recorded electronically

Nut Graf — this is the paragraph that comes right after the lede. While the lede may be intentionally attention-grabbing, the nut graf explains the background and the importance of the story

Op-ed — an op-ed is an opinion piece written by someone that is not on the paper’s editorial board. This is not to be confused with an editorial, which is written by the newspaper’s opinion staff

Orphan — along with widow, an orphan is a grim term for a pretty pedantic concept. An orphan is when a part of a word wraps around and creates another line at the end of a paragraph. Because it’s so small and on its own, it’s an “orphan”

Pica — a pica is a unit of measurement in printing, and there are six picas in an inch. The term is primarily used by the people laying out the paper

Proof — the first copy of the newspaper that is printed and looked through by editors for a final sweep to catch mistakes

Rail — a rail appears on the front page of a newspaper, and it’s a collection of teasers

Stet — an editor’s mark that means “let stand” (it’s a Latin word). If an editor changes something and someone disagrees with the change, they can write “stet” to alert the next editor to ignore the change

Teaser — these are the short sentences or headlines used to tease what’s inside the newspaper

TK — these two letters are used to fill space in a newspaper before the actual text is added. It generally means “to come,” and it was chosen because “TK” is a very uncommon letter combination in the English language. That way, editors are less likely to forget to add the real text before the paper is published

Widow — like an orphan, this is a problem only in physical newspapers. It’s when a line of a paragraph extends into the next column, which can look ugly. Some publications ban all widows and orphans, some don’t

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