Carlos Lozada: In the final analysis, journalists love cliches

March 29, 2013 

Pity the poor editor seeking to avoid clichés. It is a futile attempt that, for better or worse, only shines a spotlight on what has become the new normal. Be that as it may, it is fun. Over the past couple of years, I have joined with colleagues throughout The Washington Post to collect clichéd words and phrases that journalists rely on too much -- indeed, at their peril. It was a little-noticed collection that has suddenly become oft-cited, perhaps even going viral.

After Jim Romenesko posted the list on his blog, I expected pushback from the powers that be, who might want to double down on their use of such terms. Instead, we received support from a dizzying array of sources, in particular through a feeding frenzy of retweets and e-mails. Clearly, this hot-button issue struck a nerve.

We learned that picking winners was a favorite Washington parlor game. Indeed, the list became a Rorschach test, if you will, for how you perceive journalism in the 21st century, particularly with the rise of the 24-hour news cycle. Friends told me the list was being passed around in other newsrooms, making me feel like a most unlikely revolutionary. It was a paradigm shift -- at least for now.

To be sure, the list was incomplete. But rather than shutter it, we’ve added many more #bannedphrases sent from throughout the Fourth Estate, official Washington and beyond. Herewith, a dozen examples:

Literally

Kingmaker

The (anything) community

Inside the Beltway

Demurred

It's the (anything), stupid

Redux

That’s just (person’s name) being (person's name)

It is what it is

Political theater

Part and parcel

Main Street vs. Wall Street

Critics say it can't be done.

After all, page views are the coin of the realm, and efforting to write cliché-free prose on deadline is a fool's errand. Needless to say, even in the august pages of The Washington Post's Outlook section, this list is more honored in the breach.

But ultimately, the list begs the question: If even this hastily convened national conversation can midwife a new way of writing -- call it Journalism 2.0 — will the tightly knit community that is the mainstream media finally begin thinking outside the box?

Just imagining fewer clichés gives me a palpable sense of relief and bolsters my faith that perhaps this beleaguered industry can avoid an ignominious end.

Lozada is the editor of The Washington Post’s Outlook section.

THE WASHINGTON POST

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