Newsroom Content Tips: An Alleged Problem

This post is titled “An alleged problem” because not using the word “allegedly” in stories about arrests and lawsuits will allegedly get you sued.

A lot of stories come out with headlines screaming “arrested for” and “sued for.”

The recent lawsuit against Facebook has brought this to my attention.

A lot of headlines say “Facebook sued for …”. They should say “Facebook sued for allegedly … .”

When writing about arrests, using “allegedly” is good, but using “on charges of” is better.

  • Bad: Joe Schmo was arrested for robbing a bank
  • Better: Joe Schmo was arrested for allegedly robbing a bank
  • Best: Joe Schmo was arrested on charges of bank robbery

It’s best to just state the facts, and in the case of arrests, the facts are the exact charges.

You do this to prevent being sued yourself. If a lawyer sees you convicting their client before trial even begins, watch out!

That lawyer can sue you for allegedly impeding the client’s right to a fair trial.

To prove that I know what I’m talking about, here it is straight from the Associated Press:

To avoid any suggestion that someone is being judged before a trial, do not use a phrase such as arrested for killing. Instead, use arrested on a charge of killing. If a charge hasn’t been filed, arrested on suspicion of, or a similar phrase, should be used.

This is why marketing departments or online publications don’t just need stellar writers; they need editors who can keep you out of court.

It’s particularly painful to see a horribly written headline, yet a carefully written story. That often means the writers know what they’re doing, but the editor wrote a headline to fit the space or keep character count low, but neglected the legal ramifications.

Make sure everyone who writes and edits your content knows the rules for writing about legal issues.

Social Media Crisis: When the Most Trusted News Source Gets Hacked

Associated Press Twitter account suspended

The Associated Press Twitter account (@AP) is suspended while the hack is investigated.

Panic ensued on Wall Street when The Associated Press Twitter account (@AP) was hacked, and the following message was tweeted on April 23, 2013:

Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured

News industry professionals should’ve known this was fake by the inconsistencies in the use of uppercase letters – if anyone has to follow AP Style, it’s The AP!

In the news business, there’s a rule that we all learned in our first journalism class (Thanks, Professor Bush!). In any news story, always interview at least three credible sources. This is to ensure accuracy.

This same tactic can be applied to this kind of social media crisis. Before panicking over a tweet (even from a credible source, such as The Associated Press), we should seek out at least one other source that corroborates the story.

Although news is quick and easy to see on Twitter, check out the actual news site since Twitter accounts are easily compromised. According to today’s CBS News story, @AP isn’t the only news organization twitter handle that’s currently suspended due to hacks:

Over the weekend, CBS News confirmed that its ’60 Minutes’ and ’48 Hours’ Twitter accounts were compromised. Both accounts remain suspended at present time.

Content Creation Must: Get Your Mind Into the Gutter

When creating content, it’s not just spelling, grammar, facts and compelling, quality writing that you need to worry about. There’s a danger lurking on the page that keeps writers and editors up at night with visions of their careers flashing before them.

Cat makes disgusted looking face over obscene contentNamely, the word “public”.

If you’re in the writing, particularly newspaper, business, you know why this is a scary word.

If you’re not, this word is easily misspelled as “pubic”. Imagine the horror of parents reading about their “pubic schools”! What makes this word especially terrifying is that “pubic” is a word, so spell check won’t pick it up.

And it’s not just that word that worries editors, but the similar potential for other words and phrases to come together in a similarly obscene way. On top of spell checking, grammar fixing and fact checking, it’s also the copy editor’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen. (This is made more difficult by sneaky reporters who try to slip innuendo into their copy hoping editors will miss it. You know who you are!)

As a content creator, you need to prevent unintentionally obscene language, too.

Think dirty

There’s a saying in the news business: A dirty mind is a copy editor’s best friend.

If you don’t know what I mean, you probably haven’t seen this headline that I saw via Grammarly‘s facebook page: A-Rod goes deep, Wang hurt.


If the person who wrote that only thought LONG and HARD … OK, moving on.

As hilarious as that headline is, you don’t want it to happen to you – or your company or client. You need to cultivate a dirty mind to create content that won’t offend, embarrass and/or get you fired.

Don’t worry, if you have trouble thinking filthy thoughts, there’s help for you. Play the game Dirty Minds, where participants are given obscene-sounding clues to guess an ordinary object. Heck those of us with a healthy dirty mind, should play it anyway because it’s a blast – and it’ll be harder for you to get past the dirty clues to guess a good, clean object!

If thought perversions are just beyond you, at least we all have a dirty-minded friend or co-worker to turn to. Ask this person to read your content before publishing to catch accidentally hilarious and/or offensive material.

Bottom line: Examine content long and hard before printing something that will have readers thinking about long, hard things.

Please share your own obscene-content mistakes and advice for preventing them. Thanks!

This post was inspired by my friend Kristyn Harvey LeBlanc, who shared Grammarly’s A-Rod headline with me, asking “Hey Ex-Journalist – Do these things really happen in the news world? Inquiring minds want to know.” They definitely do, Kristyn! And hopefully, with this post, it’ll happen less. Thanks for the inspiration!