Even though it’s a journalist’s job to communicate things to their audience, the job wouldn’t seem so much like a hallowed secret society if there weren’t some obstacles to outsiders knowing exactly what goes on inside. No, not really. It’s not the Freemasons or the Illuminati. It’s just an industry that, up until very recently, involved a lot of heavy machinery and so needed its own lingo. Most of the jargon here is evolved from that and some is evolved from digital-speak which came along with the internet. The rest has probably fallen into use to save time.


ABCs - the Audit Bureau of Circulation produces lists throughout the year showing the circulation of publications. 

Advertorial - big money-makers, these are features and other editorial paid for by advertisers but written in the style of the publication they appear in. They’re there to promote something, which means you’ll be paid extra to write them. 

B2B - not all magazines or papers are the ones you buy or hear about. People who work within specific industries e.g. Architecture, PR or Banking, like to find out what’s going on in their industries. So there are papers and mags written for them. These are called business-to-business publications. Or B2Bs.

Churnalism - lifting lots of content from a press release/rehashing something that someone else has written. Bad journalism to be avoided. 

Columnist - someone who writes a column in a mag or paper, probably weekly. They have the task of thinking of one to four strong opinions to put across based on things that have piqued their/the public’s interest that week. They often get paid rather a lot to do this.

Commission - when someone asks you to write a piece, that’s a commission. They’ll give you the word count and the topic and a brief. If they don’t mention a fee, it’s wise to ask about it before you start work on your commission.

Copy – this describes the words you write, whether it’s a news story or a feature. ‘Is your copy in?’ is perhaps the most harrowing thing that you will learn to dread hearing. Sometimes you write copy, sometimes you turn it around, as long as you file it (get it in) on time, and it’s clean (without grammatical or spelling mistakes).

Cuttings - essentially everything you have ever written cut out and put into a box or portfolio or cut and pasted onto a website. An outdated expression, as how many of us can cut out our articles? 

Deadline – the date you are expected to file your copy. Your deadlines will be daily on a daily newspaper, weekly on a weekly magazine and monthly on a monthly magazine. Deadline ‘surfing’, where you allow so much work to pile up that you crash and miss your deadline, could get you a reputation for being unreliable.

Feature - this is a longer piece, with a news hook or peg in it (we’ll explain what that is in a minute, but it’s usually in the second paragraph). Can be an opinion piece, an interview or an investigation. Tends to provide readers with a written analysis of a certain topic.

Freebie - your low salary/wage/rate will be supplemented by freebies. These aren’t as eternally free-flowing as they were in days of yore, but you will get sent free samples of things to review. Everything from CDs and DVDs to sandwiches, chocolates, pizzas, shoes, shoe-shaped pizzas, pizza-shaped shoes etc.

Headline – the thing at the top of the article that tells you what to expect in the rest of the article. In tabloid papers, it’s full of puns. In broadsheets, it’ll be more to-the-point, and in magazines, it varies depending on the type of feature it is. Usually subs write this, unless you’re online. 

House Style/Style Guide - some people use “quotation marks”, others use ‘quotation marks’. Some people pray to God that their paper sells, others pray to god. A style guide keeps the grammar and spelling rules so that journalists can maintain a consistent style.

Invoice - as a freelancer, this is the form you fill in or submit to make sure you actually get paid. Include a clause mentioning your statutory rights and you’ll be paid on time!

Kill fee - if you’re a freelancer and the piece you’ve been sweatily tapping out on your laptop for the past ten days (or at least three hours before your deadline) is “spiked”, this is a smaller fee you might be paid for the work you’ve done.

Layout - the sizing, spacing and placement of words and pictures within a window or page.

Lead time - How long in advance a publication is working on something. Believe it or not, some magazines start working on their Christmas issues in the height of summer. 

The Leveson Inquiry or just “Leveson” - the inquiry into the culture and practises of tabloid journalism. 

NCTJ - The National Council for Training of Journalists. They accredit all places offering journalism courses. Anywhere that either offers an NCTJ qualification or is NCTJ-accredited is legitimate and will look fantastic on your CV.

News peg - what makes this feature relevant now. Although you might see some absolute twaddle being published, there’s usually a justification for writing it. Either an anniversary, an event, or a new news story. This is usually referred to in the second paragraph of the feature.

News story - the how-why-what-where-when and who of something newsworthy. The bare bones of one action/event taking place, and any reaction to it. 

NUJ - the National Union of Journalists. There is a small fee to join but membership gives you some rights. 

On the record/Off the record - if something’s said to you on the record, you are allowed to print it. If it’s off the record, it is just for your info and not to be used in any article.

Photoshop - this is a programme that enables you to edit photos. Some people use them to airbrush or to hone or to add colours or to make art. Many others use it to crop and resize photos so they can fit on a page.

Pitch - about 50-200 words explaining why you want to do a particular story, including a news hook, and a brief run-down of what you want to say, who you’ll interview. 

PRs - PRs and journalists are traditionally frienemies, but you will encounter some who really are helpful. It’s not only their job to nag you to put their product/brand/stories in your articles, but to give you fun ideas, news hooks and, of course, freebies. 

Source – This is where you get your stories from. They can be anonymous or credited. However, they are vital. You cannot fake your sources OR misquote them, for legal reasons. And, for reasons of journalistic honour, you are entitled to keep your sources secret.

Spike - If your story is spiked, that means it is rubbished, impaled on a stick, never to be seen in print. Well, maybe… sometimes it’s just been held because something more news-worthy has come along, and may end up being published at a later date. 

Strapline - sounds filthy, when in fact it’s not. Also called a ‘sell’ or ‘tagline’, it comes after (stop giggling at the back) the headline and gives you a little taster (seriously, stop) of what the article’s about and sometimes will include the byline (writer’s name). 

Tabloid - This technically means a small paper, but tabloids/the tabs are now associated with covering more sensational and downmarket stories than the broadsheets, with more emphasis on showbiz and sport. They’re not to be messed with and consider themselves the voice of the people.

Trend – One thing happening is an event. Two things happening is a coincidence. Three things happening is a bona fide trend. Not in the Twitter sense, but three is the golden number that can back up your argument and make it work as a news hook.



Above the fold - unless you’ve got extendable arms, you’re likely to fold a broadsheet. Everything on the top half of the page is ‘above the fold’. This is where you ideally want your work to go. However, this term is also now used a lot in digital, and refers to the top bit of a website that you can see without scrolling down.

Adobe InDesign - a computer programme that enables you to design pages of a publication. Might make your eyes go funny. See also QuarkXPress

Cover lines - these are the things on the front of a publication telling you about what’s inside. These are strategically placed and strategically written to capture the reader’s attention.

DPS - a double page spread. Content that goes across two pages. This is top content, and if you’ve got yourself a DPS, you’re on the right track.

Flatplan – a plan of a publication (sometimes stuck up on a wall, sometimes on a computer screen) that shows how the articles and adverts are laid out.

Freesheet - a free newspaper/magazine which makes money from advertising e.g. Stylist, The Evening Standard, City A.M.

NIB – ‘news in brief’: This can be a standalone news story of 50-100 words, or the beginning 50-100 of a longer story. 

Sub-editor/Sub - the person who corrects the copy, makes sure it is written in house style, comes up with punchy headlines and makes all the words fit nicely within layouts so there is always more than one word on a line.

Word count - you structure all of your work around a word count that you should try very hard to stick to. Journalists who over-write don’t tend to be popular with commissioning editors.



Cross-head - when a long feature is broken up by little headings, these are referred to as cross-heads. 

Litoral – A typographical error involving a single letter. People just use it to mean typos, ie, plain old ‘mistakes’.

Orphan/Widow - these aren’t as horrible as they sound. They’re the terms given to bits of text dangling in the wrong places. An orphan is a one-word line at the bottom of a paragraph, and a widow is when the last line of a paragraph ends up on the top of a column. Both are to be avoided, either by altering the kerning (letter spacing) of the text or by cutting words out.

Overmatter - 3hen there is surplus copy after a layout has been designed, this is referred to as overmatter. The equivalent number of lines need to be cut from the whole layout.

Pull-Quote – an intriguing sentence or quote that has been repeated prominently in the layout – maybe in a bolder font or colour – to draw the reader’s eye to the feature. 



CMS - most probably the bane of the life of every single person who’s ever worked online. Essentially a form you have to fill in so that a story can be published. Much like a dodgy kebab, it comes with bugs and options.

CSS – Cascading Stylesheets. A sort of online-only template for the design of websites. You might not need to use one, but your tech team certainly will.

HTML - HyperText Markup Language. Seems like the nerdiest thing in the world, but is a simple language which helps you to format your work online. Lots of CMS have options which help you to get around not knowing HMTL, but it is very simple, and worth picking up.

SEO - Search Engine Optimisation. You’ll notice that a lot of pieces, both features and news, increasingly drop names in to attract popular searches. If an up and coming celebrity is mates with both e.g. Justin Bieber and Gareth Gates, it’s best to give Biebs a mention instead of Gareth – this is not only because readers know who Justin is, but because people Google Justin Bieber a lot more than Gareth Gates so there’s a greater chance they might end up landing on your page. By littering your text with (slightly) relevant popular search terms e.g. porn, poker, Lindsay Lohan, weight loss, One Direction, you will draw the attention of more people.

Word count - Technically, the internet is unlimited and free so you can write as much as you like for each post. Realistically, research shows that people don’ read more than 700 words in a story and