Journo Resources Fellow

August 7, 2021 (Updated )

Reporting from a newsroom comes with its own set of vocabulary – and it can often feel overwhelming for new journalists who aren’t accustomed to the jargon. I certainly struggled on my first day as a trainee journalist on an NCTJ course, after we were presented with a list of words. Our task was to work out their definition without the support of the internet or a dictionary.

The list included words like splash, standfirst and bounce rate. I glanced at the list and realised I only knew the meaning of one word, which was ‘call to action’. Even though I had completed work experience prior to starting the course, the words came as a surprise to me.

What Even Are Journalistic Words?

Abbianca Makoni works at the Evening Standard. (Image Credit: The Stationers’ Company)

Abbianca Makoni, a news reporter at the Evening Standard, agrees. Speaking to Journo Resources, she says: “When I first started my journalism apprenticeship, I was not sure about the meaning of words such as beat, NIBs (news in brief), copy, and filing.

“This made it difficult for me to understand what was being communicated across the newsroom. It was only until an editor sat me down and explained what the terms meant, that I understood.”

She also believes that journalists should be given training on newsroom lingo, particularly in their first year, so as not to alienate them.

For me, when I first looked at the list of news terms on my course, I felt disappointed with myself because I had not thought about the language that journalists use on a daily basis.

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"When I first looked at the list of news terms on my course, I felt disappointed with myself because I had not thought about the language that journalists use on a daily basis."
Sharron Logan

Before starting the course, I had spent my time focusing on some of the other modules, like media law and public affairs, and it did not occur to me to devote some time to learning journalism vocabulary.

Our group decided to discuss the terms together, rather than concentrating on the competition element of the task. We worked our way through each word, exploring possible definitions as we went along. And, in the end, we fared quite well in the contest.

It actually taught me one of the golden rules of journalism – if you’re ever unsure, ask around. Especially if you’re among other new trainees, chances are there will be words that they are not familiar with either. Sharing your knowledge among one another and asking senior or permanent members of staff will ensure you’re up to scratch with what you need to know.

Making Time To Learn Journalism Definitions

Throughout my time on the course and during work experience in the newsroom, I was exposed to more journalism terms as I attended the courts, tribunals, and press conferences.

Toby Porter, news editor and chief reporter at the South London Press, tells me that it’s about making the newsroom as efficient as possible.

“The job of a journalist is to convey information as quickly as possible in as short a space as possible,” he explains.

“Knowing all this jargon enables you to communicate in the quickest possible way with a news editor so that person can make decisions.

“The quicker you can do it, the quicker they can get on with other tasks. It’s a shortcut and journalists need shortcuts all the time to free up time to cover more stories.”

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"It's a shortcut and journalists need shortcuts all the time to free up time to cover more stories."
Toby Porter

In The Newsroom Journalism Words Come To Life

After completing the NCTJ news reporting course, I was offered a work placement on the foreign desk of a national newspaper.

In the newsroom, the words that I learned came to life. It felt like bingo, striking off the words I heard instead of numbers.

When the editor asked me to monitor the news wires and write some NIBs I knew exactly what to do. I also understood exactly what was required of me when I was asked to add some colour to a news agency story during an environmental protest.

So, to make sure you have a grasp of the vocabulary that whizzes around newsrooms, here’s a handy guide to get you started.

Journalism Glossary



Anchor story The story running horizontally along the bottom of the page in print news.
Angle A story’s angle is a journalist’s individual take on the way that they want to report the information.
Beat The topic that a reporter specialises in e.g. politics, sport, community.
Bounce rate The percentage of visitors to a website who leave after only viewing one page. Bounce rates are described as being either high or low.
Byline A term used to tell you the name of the person who wrote the story. It might also include their job title. More than one person can share the byline.
Call to action Instruction for the reader to do something, e.g. subscribe here, donate now, complete the form.
Caption The words that describe an image, video, or graphic.
Colour/adding colour A sensory description of the news being reported, e.g. a person’s appearance, actions, or the setting.
Copy A term used to describe the words you write.
Death-knock When a journalist approaches a grieving person, who had a close relationship with a deceased individual, for additional information or comment on their life and death.

Editors’ Code of Practice The set of principles that UK newspapers and magazines who have signed up to be regulated by IPSO must follow. There are 16 codes in total.
Embargo A news embargo restricts information from being published until a certain date.
Evergreen content A term used to describe content that never dates, e.g. FAO or how-to guides
File copy/stories When a news story is submitted ready to be published.
Headline The main news title, which is written in large, bold text.
Inverted pyramid  The practice in journalism of structuring news stories. The start of the story (the intro) will include the important information answering the question words (who, what, why when, where, how). It will then continue to flesh out these facts with stats, quotes, etc, eventually filtering down to the least important details of the story.
IPSO Refers to the Independent Press Standards Organisation. They’re the watchdog for newspapers and magazines in the UK, who sign up to become members.
Intro The start of the news story. It is one sentence in bold text that informs the reader what the story is all about.

NIBs The term used for news in brief. These are short stories of typically less than 100 words.
Pitch To present a story idea to an editor.
Pull-out quote A salient part of a quote pulled out of the story and displayed mid-text to grab the reader’s attention.
SEO Refers to Search Engine Optimisation, the goal of SEO is to optimise a website so that it will not only appear in search engine results but also rank well. One practice is to use keywords.
Source Any information that you gather for a story, such as from a person, an official document, social media, or a press release.
Splash The story on the front page of a newspaper/magazine.
Standfirst A brief summary of the news story. It is below the main headline and used as a lead-in to the article.
Strapline A little headline that goes over the main headline.
Style guide/house style A how-to guide for writing for a particular publication. It may include information such as grammatical points, instructions on writing dates and numbers, how to abbreviate words, and preferred vocabulary use.
UGC Refers to user-generated content which is any type of content (images, videos, and audio) created and shared by members of the public.
Sharron Logan
Sharron Logan

Sharron is one of our 2020/21 Journo Resources fellows, and writes practical features for the website. Sharron studied her NCTJ with PA Training and has worked for various UK outlets.