The wife of a Spanish reporter held for three months by militants in Syria has broken her silence in the hope that publicity might achieve what negotiation has not. Martin Chulov's report for the Guardian sheds new light on the kidnapping of journalists and aid workers in Syria and highlights the perils of what is plainly one of the most dangerous conflicts for reporters in recent history.
Every media organisation has a style guide – a bespoke dictionary for reporters and broadcasters which sets out how certain information should be presented, as well as warning against common errors. It may not be consulted every day, but the information within it has a bearing on every story produced by every journalist.
At a basic level, it lays out a common format for dates, times, numbers and other everyday information to ensure that all stories have a consistent voice, even if they are being created by a large number of journalists spread out over a county, the country, or the world. It gives journalists guidance on common mistakes of spelling and grammar, and explains how to refer to people who hold positions of authority. This is not just a matter of deference - your reports need to clearly distinguish employed council officers from elected councillors, for example, so that your readers can properly hold authorities to account.
Style books also often contain a section of banned words and phrases. Many are well-worn cliches which you are well advised to avoid, while others are inserted at the whim of an editor and will cause frustrated debate in newsrooms for years... until a new editor arrives with a new set of whims and rewrites the style guide. Just like dictionaries, good style books should be constantly revised to make sure journalists' writing sounds fresh and current. There's always a good new word to add, and a faddish new cliche to outlaw.
This is an abridged version of the Kent Messenger’s style book, used to produce its titles across the county every week, and has been reproduced with their permission. You should follow it in all the newswriting you submit at the Centre for Journalism - just as the Kent Messenger's news editors will expect you to follow it when you join their reporting teams for a placement at the end of your first year.