Newspaper Jargon

This week we present a short glossary of newspaper jargon terms:

above the fold, adj., used to describe an article placed on the top half of the front page, so it is visible when the paper is folded. Also below the fold.

agate, n., a small type used in newspapers primarily for statistics (sports, stocks), approximately 5.5 points (1/14 inch) high. An American term (the English equivalent is ruby type) dating to 1838, the name comes from a series of typefaces named after precious stones.

beat, n., subject matter habitually covered by a reporter. The term dates to 1721 in reference to a watchman’s round or course, generalizing to other professions and activities by 1786. Ultimately, it comes from the verb to beat, probably from the feet beating the ground, but perhaps from beat over old ground or to beat the bounds.

break, n., the continuation of a story on another page, cf. jump.

breakline, n., the last line of a paragraph; In good typographic practice, it should contain at least five letters and should not be used to begin a new page or column; since 1683.

broadsheet, n., a newspaper printed on large, sheets of paper folded along the width; a newspaper containing serious journalism about important issues; since 1840. Cf. tabloid.

budget, n., the amount of space given to a news department to print its stories.

bulldog, adj., US term indicative of an evening edition of a newspaper, 1926.

bury the lede/lead, v. phr., to place what should be the prominent story inside the paper, to place the most important element of the article many paragraphs down, cf. stuff.

by-line, n., the line in an article, usually at the top, that names the writer, 1926.

column inch, n., measurement of space in a newspaper, a one inch tall by one column wide space, since at least 1940.

copy desk, n., where articles are edited and headlines and captions are assigned, 1929.

cutline, n., a caption, 1938.

dateline, n., the line in an article, usually at the top, that designates the date the article was filed and usually the place it was filed from, 1888.

deadline, n., the time at which material must be ready in order for it to appear in a particular edition of the paper, 1920.

embargo, n. & v., a condition placed on source material that prevents publication before a specific date, to place such a condition on material given to a newspaper. Sources often give information to papers in advance so that stories can be written and editions planned.

evergreen, adj., used to describe a story that can be run at any time, a feature story as opposed to a topical one.

FOIA, n. & v., pronounced / foy-yah /, the Freedom of Information Act, a 1966 US law that requires the federal government to release records to anyone who asks for them, with exceptions made for records containing private information about individuals, national security information, etc.; to request government records under this law.

folio, n., the page number and, usually, the newspaper name and date which appears in the upper, outer corner of a page, since 1683.

front, v., to place a story on the front page.

gutter, n., the space between columns.

inside, n., the parts of the newspaper other than the front and back pages.

jump line, n., the line just before or after a jump that indicates the page and column where the story continues or originates. Also turn line.

jump, n., the continuation of a story on another page, cf. break.

justify, v., to align type so that it is even on the left and right hand sides, 1671.

lead, n., pronounced / led /, the space between lines in a page, from the strip of lead that was once used to separate lines of type, 1808.

lead, n., pronounced / leed /, the most important article in the paper, usually placed in the upper right columns of the front page.

lede, n., the start of a story, summarizing the essential elements and containing a hook to keep the reader’s attention, variant spelling of lead used to avoid confusion with the preceding.

mainbar, n., the primary story in a cluster of articles about a particular topic, a back formation from sidebar.

masthead, n., 1. the title of the newspaper, from the location at the top center of the front page analogous to the masthead of a ship, by extension the newspaper itself, 1838. 2. the list of publishers and editors, contact information, subscription rates and information, etc., usually on the editorial page in one the first few pages of the paper, 1934.

morgue, n., 1. the repository of information on persons to be used in writing their obituaries, 1903. 2. the paper’s collection of old articles, clippings, and reference materials, 1918.

off-lead, n., the second most important story in the paper, usually placed either in the upper left corner of the front page or on the right-hand side, directly below the lead.

op-ed, n., the page facing the editorial page, usually containing outside commentary and letters to the editor, from opposite editorial, 1931.

pica, n., a unit of measurement equal to one sixth of an inch or twelve points, of uncertain origin, 1588.

point, n., a unit of measurement equal to 1/72 of an inch, 1890.

pool, n., a group of reporters from various publications who cover a particular beat and take it in turns to stand duty, sharing information and reportage with each other; used when only a limited number or reporters can be accommodated; from the betting sense of a resource into which everyone contributes; in general use to mean a shared pool of workers since 1928.

proof, n., a printed copy of an article before it has gone to press, used for editing and correcting errors, from the sense of something produced for use in a test, 1600.

refer, n., pronounced / reefer /, a short notice on the front page of an article or feature contained inside, from referral or reference. Also known as a whip.

scoop, v. & n., to report a story before the competition, a story so reported. In journalistic use since 1884, from the gambling sense of to scoop the pot, to get the better of, to beat, 1850.

side-bar, n., a newspaper article that contains secondary information related to another, main story, 1948.

slug, n. & v., internal title for a story, usually one word, to give a story such a title, 1925. Also slug-line.

spike, v., to refuse to print a story, to kill a story, from the act of spindling deficient stories, 1908.

spread, n., a story that runs across the whole of two facing pages.

string, n., the columns set by a compositor or written by a correspondent attached in a long strip, the length of which was used to determine compensation, 1875.

stringer, n., a correspondent or photographer who is not an employee of the paper, but does piece work, 1952. See preceding.

strip, n., a story that runs across the entire width of a page.

stuff, v., to place a story, esp. an important one, inside the paper.

tabloid, adj. & n., characteristic of reporting that makes the news understandable and accessible, often sensational and lurid; also used to refer to newspapers printed on smaller sheets, folded lengthwise (cf. broadsheet). In journalistic use since 1901 as an adjective, 1918 as a noun, from an earlier pharmaceutical trademark for tablet or pill.

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