Journalese, A User's Guide

Journalese: Splash, Turn, Spread, Wing, Nib

Readers don’t care about bylines.

But you do.

And why not? If you’ve toiled away on a doorstep and mashed out 1,800 words splash copy plus the turn to the spread, you’re going to want something to show for it.

And nothing gives you the warm inner glow of seeing your name on a splash byline; usually upside down, at shoe level, next to the puzzler mags.

There’s still a thrill to be had from it and if poll corrs get wind their dreary procedural marmalade from the House is not getting the front page of your newspaper expect them to big-foot you at every opportunity. It’s a back-handed compliment.

In a digital world, physical conquest of white space in black and white is not necessary. There virality and tempo, driven by social media dark arts and SEO chicanery (try Free Porn Big Tits as your keywords for every dry political story you churn out and watch your fan base grow) dominate proceedings.

But for the inky world of newspapers, space on the front page is your aim and the splash is your goal.splashish

The Splash is much like anything else in newspapers. Arbitrary, accidental and opportunistic. Selecting a splash can be as simple as the editor being bored or annoyed by the news editor or conference going badly. It could see your humble page lead being elevated to splash status.

In general, Editors, unless hellbent on kicking Princess-Diana-hating-house-price-ruining-asylum-seekers out of Britain, apply the principles of Sherlock Holmes.

When you have ruled out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, is the splash.

To get to the splash, you need to know your way around how the desk thinks and how to maximise the impact of your middling story to full-blown splash. So first, know your copy.


News in brief. Or briefs. The nib is the nub of a story in 50 words or less. Padding out the paper when stories don’t fit, ads drop out or you have too many stories that HAVE to go in. Probably the most read part of a paper because it requires little effort from the reader.


Ah, the wing. What might have been. Curious dog legs and fillers ranging from 200 to 400 words mournfully nuzzling the edge of a page. Earlier in the day they may have been page leads replete with pictures but now they bookend the main stories on a page sometimes in a solitary column at the edge, doomed to live next to doodles. These are often page leads that have been overtaken by events – and more interesting, let’s face it, stories that have emerged. And quite right, too. Newspapers need them to fill space and help design, the internet doesn’t.


Your heart will groan when you hear Backbench mutter they’re doing a spread. Your crisp 650 word story is now going to be a screed. Expect to deliver 1,200 to 1,800 words so make sure you’ve got lots of quotes and a grasp of cut and paste from the library.

Worth it in the end though, and many find a spread a more satisfying display of their work and ability to cut and paste from wikipedia.


In an age of avalanche journalism it is rare these days to see a tight self-contained splash.  Once the desks have committed to a topic, they then start building on it furiously with case histories, graphics, sidebars and basements.

Full knee-jerk, in other words.

The turn is when your splash copy moves off the front page onto the inside pages. In tabloids you may write a short four par page one write off. And then start the longer-form intro etc for the inside turn.splashe


If it bleeds, it leads. Good cliche that holds true. Less relevant in the age of instant gratification through rolling news and web coverage so policy and issue-led stories are fall-backs for the hollering splashes of newspapers.

But how do you get one?

Simple. Assuming you’ve not spent 15 years bringing FIFA to heel with slow journalism, their are other methods to sneak onto the front.

Your natural enemy is your political editor who enjoys bringing stories late to evening conference or, better, after evening conference to make it sound as if they have ‘just broken’. This impresses desks and editors.

DO the same.

Splashes need to be new, they need to be new and they also need to be new. A follow just won’t do.

But if you have a genuine story, keep it to yourself. Don’t flag it for morning conference as the desk and the executives who heard it will be bored by 5pm. Don’t do it after lunch either. You won’t have the attention of the desk who just want to clear copy and they often recite their list (again) for the page planners and night editors.

Reveal it just before conference, keep the detail light, and say you’re waiting on a call.

In the political cut and thrust of conference, newsdesk will be obliged to mention it in conference. If they think it’s good they’ll tease at the start. If they’re not convinced, they’ll throw it in at the end. Either way, because they don’t have the detail, they’ll be vague. And the vaguer they get, the newer it will feel.

And that’s why tomorrow’s splash is:

Scorchmageddon! Bonkers Britain To Bake In 19 Degree Heatwave!


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