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.