Style Matters #35: It’s time to kick those clichés to the kerb


Curbing the tendency to pollute your writing with clichés is important for a professional reporter or writer.

Australian television news, at present, seems to be having an inexplicably lazy preoccupation with clichés. And they don’t just stop at verbal ones. They’ve started marrying twee visual shots with those tired, clichéd words. Spare me.

Perhaps charities could start charging reporters a $1 for every time a cliché is used in their reporting. That would certainly boost their coffers.

Ironically, after one particularly egregious example on a commercial TV news bulletin one night earlier this week, my partner – an experienced media photographer – opined that the political journalist, who had peppered his daily election campaign report with tedious clichés, had “been on the bus too long”.

What TV news reporters who draw on clichés too frequently fail to realise is that such behaviour simply makes editorial content sound more like a packaged promo or, worse still, an advertisement.

Handily, one television industry blogger has a great list online of familiar transgressions. But the real hero in TV land would have to be Chicago’s WLS-TV producer Lisa McGonigle who penned a mega list of verboten clichés that was republished in a Mervin Block blog post in early 2007.

But we shouldn’t just single out TV reporters, because clichés are far too common in all news media when they should be the last refuge of the clueless scoundrel.

In print, digital and broadcast media, some of the biggest offenders when it comes to clichés are entertainment and sports writers, followed by newspaper headline writers. (Disclosure: Having been a headline writer on several large metropolitan newspapers, I’ve been guilty of falling into this trap, especially when pushed for time.)

In reality, readers, listeners and viewers value original ideas and fresh copy. They do not want to be hammered with tired rhetoric. It turns them off and sees them abandon stories mid-way or simply “tune out”.

A comprehensive collection of pointless words and phrases for all writers and reporters to bookmark is at the Cliché List website.

Then there are the irritating, overused “trendy” words and phrases that quickly become clichés.

Since 1976, early every new year the Lake Superior State University in the US state of Michigan publishes its now famous annual list of banished words. It would also pay writers to trawl back through past lists.


If you like what you’ve read here, you can see reporting4work’s similar posts at Style Matters or connect via Facebook by liking the reporting4work Facebook Page 





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s