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The "Don't List" of Bennett's "New York Herald"

Editing Guidelines for Reporters and Copyreaders

By

The

James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (1841-1918)

For over four decades, James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (1841-1918) was the wealthy, flamboyant, and often boorish owner of the popular New York Herald newspaper. As journalist Richard Reeves has written, "Not everyone believes the story that he [Bennett] suddenly decided to leave New York for Paris in 1877 because of the uproar after he drunkenly broke up a New Year’s party by relieving himself into the grand piano in his fiancee’s Manhattan home. No, some say he did it in the fireplace."

However it happened, Bennett's engagement to Caroline May was abruptly ended, and for the next 42 years he ran the newspaper by telegraph from his home in Paris. Just six years after Bennett's death in 1918, the Herald itself vanished in a merger with the New York Tribune.

In July 2008, the New York Herald was brought back to life as an online newspaper. To mark the event, we're reprinting the "Don't List" prescribed a century ago for the "reporters and copyreaders" on Bennett's newspaper. Some of these guidelines (such as "Do not tell a story more than once" and "Don't use suicide as a verb") remain eminently sensible. Others, however, sound dated--if not downright bizarre.

"Don't List" of the New York Herald
Under James Gordon Bennett the Younger,
Its Proprietor From 1867 to 1918
for the Guidance of Reporters and Copyreaders

COURTESY AND FAIR PLAY

  • Do not use any expression that will unnecessarily hold anyone up to ridicule. The printing of anonymous interviews, statements and implied accusations is forbidden.
  • Don't say "Chinaman" for a Chinese.
  • Don't call a Jew a Hebrew.
  • Don't use "Italian" in crime stories; say "foreigner." Reflections on nationalities or races are taboo.
  • Don't say "colored man" when you mean negro.
  • Don't call her an "old woman," say "aged."

OBSERVE THE LAWS OF GOOD TASTE

In writing let it be taken for granted that a person shot, stabbed or mangled will bleed. Use the word "blood" only when it is essential.

  • Don't say "box party" for theatre party.
  • Don't say a man is a "clubman."
  • Don't use "courtesy visit."
  • Don't use "visiting" in the sense of "Mr. and Mrs. Blank are visiting at Mr. Dash's villa."
  • Don’t use “invited guest” or “invited audience.”
  • Don’t use the term “dinner hostesses,” “dinner dance” or “dinner guest.”
  • Don’t use “house guest,” “house party” or “reception guest.”
  • Don’t use (hotel) “patron” or “guest.”
  • Don’t use “guest of honor” or “maid of honor.”
  • Don’t say a man is a “rich man” or a “magnate.”
  • Don’t use “New Yorker.”
  • Don’t say a man is a “society” man.
  • Don’t use “week end” or “over Saturday.”
  • Be careful in the use of the word “sick” that the context does not place upon it the possibility of an offensive construction. “Ill” is preferable.
  • Don’t call a theatrical performance a show.
  • Don’t use “society belle”; say “society girl” or “social leader.”
  • Don’t apply “schedule” to the movement of persons, as: --“Ambassador Bacon was scheduled to leave Vienna in the morning.”

AVOID INACCURACIES OF STATEMENT

  • Don't say "mutual friend."
  • Don't refer to the "club section of the city." There is none.
  • Once a King or Queen always one, unless deposed, as Marie Antoinette.
  • Don't use "demote" for reduce. There is no word demote.

DOS AND DON'TS FOR WRITING FOR THE HERALD

  • Get the news, and all the news.
  • Outline your story before you begin to write.
  • Reporters will find it to their advantage to put down a single fact, or a group of related facts, on one sheet of paper in making notes, so that they may readily and quickly arrange their material in logical sequence.
  • Know the subject thoroughly and think straight.
  • Write as well as you talk.
  • Avoid long and involved sentences. Make them short and crisp. Do not try to fire your whole battery of details in the introduction.
  • Do not tell a story more than once.
  • The introduction is to give to the reader a quick, illuminating flash and to hold his attention.
  • Tell the story clearly and forcibly and keep away from worn and hackneyed phrases. Be original even if you take a chance. Dare to be as funny as you can. Don't be afraid to say the same word over again if clearness requires it. Macaulay wasn't.
  • Shun the monotonous repetition of words, however, and especially avoid the use of the same word in different senses in the same paragraph.
  • Avoid tiresome circumlocutions; write with interest and enthusiasm. Do not compose a story so that the reader feels that the writer was watching himself go by. The highest art is that which conceals art.
  • Master general principles of composition.
  • Observe accurately, know the facts, think straight, write forcibly for on these commandments rest all the rules of newspaper English.

Below are given the official "don'ts" arranged under the rhetorical principles they violate and in alphabetical order:

AVOID TRITE AND OVERWORKED EXPRESSIONS.

  • Don't "hit," "slap" or "flay" in headlines.
  • Don't say records are "broken" or "smashed."
  • Don't use "probe" or "probing."

PURITY REQUIRES THE ELIMINATION OF FOREIGN WORDS UNLESS THERE IS NO ENGLISH WORD WHICH WILL EXPRESS THE MEANING WHICH THE WRITER WOULD CONVEY.

  • "Dictograph" and "dictaphone" are patented words and should be spelled as here given. They are Greek-Latin hybrids.
  • Don’t say "per year" or "per day"; make it "per annum" or “per diem" or "a year" or "a day." Don't mix Latin and English.

SHUN OBSOLETE WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS. THIS IS THE TWENTIETH CENTURY.
Don't use "domestic" for "servant"; it is obsolete.

TAUTOLOGY CONSISTS IN REPEATING THE THOUGHT OR STATEMENT.
Don't use expressions akin to "silence reigned and no sound was heard."

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