“Another overbearing, opinionated memo”

For many years, Bud Veazey functioned as a one-man language enforcement agency at WAGA.  Despite the futility of the position, he remained persistent and amusing.  Recently, he posted a collection of his memos on his Facebook page, which I’ve reproduced below in total.

Though a bit voluminous, every word is worth reading and heeding — especially his complaints about “allegedly,” “literally” and “tonight” (although I still retain a perverse affection for “at this hour…”).

Veazey retired from WAGA after 20 or so years as the number-two guy in the newsroom, and began custom-building electric guitars.  If a cool new guitar is on your shopping list, you should consider buying one.  Merry Christmas!

Fri, 13 Jun 2003 17:14:19 (EDT)

From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers
Subject: “bust” again

Please remember than many of our viewers—those who actually were taught English grammar in school—take great offense at the use of the word “bust” as a synonym for “burst” or “break.”

A balloon is burst, not busted. A window is broken or shattered, not busted.

It’s perfectly acceptable in conversational copy to refer to an arrest or a police raid as a “bust.” However, many of our viewers and yours truly still believe that it is unacceptable to use “bust” as a synonym for burst or break.

Fri, 7 Nov 2003 17:05:39 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters
Subject: “At this hour”

When you’re telling a story to your spouse, significant other, friend or mother, do you ever use the phrase “at this hour?”

It’s a dumb ass journalese convention and cliché that intelligent people ought to be able to wean themselves from using. Humor the old man and stop it. There is nothing wrong with the words “now,” or “right now.” And, please don’t replace “at this hour” with “as we speak.” I’ll have a freaking stroke.

The VZ Purpleheart Tele

Wed, 17 Dec 2003 17:58:49 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “center around”

It is literally and figuratively impossible to “center around” something. An investigation can center “on” police activity, but it cannot center “around” it. Think about it. It’s common sense. The center of anything is a point. How can a point surround anything? Better yet, how about using a more specific phrase like “focus on?”

Wed, 17 Dec 2003 17:20:27 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers
Subject: “Incredible”

It’s incredible how often we use the word “incredible” to describe things and events that really aren’t all that incredible. Please make me incredibly happy and give the word “incredible” a rest and reserve its use for something that really is “incredible.”

Tue, 17 Aug 2004 18:11:47 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Allegedly”

Please use a little common sense when using the word “allegedly.” We often drop the word into our copy when it is either redundant or meaningless. I suppose it’s a misguided effort to avoid finding someone guilty of a crime before they are tried. If we say, “Police said John Doe shot Jane Doe,” it is unnecessary to say, “Police said John Doe ALLEGEDLY shot Jane Doe.” The allegation has been attributed to authorities.

If someone has been convicted of a crime you can stop saying he ALLEGEDLY committed the crime. A jury has agreed he did it.

And please, when you are writing about an unknown perpetrator of a crime, don’t write “alleged robber.” If we know there was a robbery, it’s an unchallenged fact that there was a robber.

Use common sense and listen to what you write.

Tue, 7 Sep 2004 17:50:12 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: The word most often misused in Television journalism

The most misused word has to be “literally.” Over the weekend I heard the word used incorrectly, or stupidly, more times than I could count by network reporters and local reporters alike.

You won’t go wrong if you will remember one simple rule: Do not use the word “literally” in a sentence unless there is some likelihood that a listener might be confused as to whether you are speaking “literally” or “figuratively.”

If you are standing in water up to your knees, it is redundant and a little silly to say, “The water is literally up to my knees.” Of course it is. We can see it. Is there any likelihood the viewer might think you were speaking figuratively? It’s as dumb as saying something like, “My head is literally splitting,” to describe a headache. If your head is literally splitting, I’m getting out of the way

Strike a blow for the English language. Listen to what you write and say.

Wed, 18 May 2005 17:26:19 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Suspects”

Foolish optimist that I am, I will once again try to explain the proper use of the word “suspect” in the hope that eventually someone will get it.

Police have a “suspect” when—and only when—they know, or think they know, who they are looking for. In other words, an individual has been identified as a “suspect” in the crime. If no one has been identified, THERE IS NO SUSPECT!

Take a moment and think about the logic.

Until a “suspect” has been identified, police are looking for a robber, a burglar, a purse snatcher, a rapist, a murderer, a reckless driver, a bad person, a clown, a mime, etc.

Once again, if police haven’t identified a person as a suspect, THERE IS NO SUSPECT!!

(I know police officers misuse the word “suspect.” If you are using police speak as your example for writing your stories, we have a problem bigger than the misuse of a word.)

Fri, 20 May 2005 12:35:28 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Present Tense Leads

I know this will cause a controversy, but as you all know I have strong opinions on certain topics. The present tense lead is one of those topics.

I don’t care what your last news director told you; there is nothing conversational about present tense leads. Some people think they add immediacy to a story. Usually they do nothing but confuse the listener.

The present tense lead is great for teases when used properly. It seldom works as the lead to a story, especially when the writer adds a time reference or mixes tenses.

For instance, what does this lead mean? “A man dies when his car crashes today on I-20.” Has there been a crash or are we predicting one? Take “today” out and the lead is okay, but I still contend it is not conversational. What’s wrong with saying, “A car crash on I-20 today killed a man?”

Here’s a lead from our Noon newscast today:  “A senior at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont receives a special present during graduation.”

If you are telling this story to a friend, wouldn’t you have said “…received a special present…?” We’re supposed to be telling stories, not slavishly following the rules we learned from some journalism school instructor who worked 15 minutes in Podunk as an associate producer, or some consultant who flunked as news director. Forget the rules. Go with your instincts. If I don’t like your instincts I’ll write another overbearing, opinionated memo.

Here’s another problem with present tense leads from our Noon newscast: “A 16-year-old girl is in the hospital after a gun goes off…hitting her in the chest.”

A girl is in the hospital and a gun goes off. We have a clue that the gun went off because “after” was stuck in the middle of the sentence. Is that really how we speak? If you insist on using a present tense lead—and I wish you wouldn’t—how about, “A shotgun blast sends a girl to the hospital.”

Those are my thoughts. Feel free to argue with me.

Thu, 26 May 2005 17:35:11 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Young Child”

It’s redundant. A child is a young human being. “Child” is sufficient. If you feel the need to be more specific, use words like infant, toddler, pre-teen, teenager, or the child’s age.

Wed, 31 Aug 2005 12:25:11 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: While I’m on my soapbox…

“Destroyed” is like pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. “Completely” destroyed is ridiculously redundant. “Partially destroyed” is “damaged.”

Tue, 25 Oct 2005 18:51:01 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters
Subject: “Tonight”

Please avoid inserting the word “tonight” unnecessarily in your standups and anchoring. The effect of this misguided attempt to add “immediacy” to your copy not only is not conversational, it can also be misleading.

In this evening’s newscast, in the “A” section, a reporter said someone was seriously injured “tonight” even though the injury occurred much earlier in the day.

An anchor said, “A mother and daughter are seriously injured “tonight” after an SUV came crashing into a dentist’s office.” Two common sense rules were broken here: a present tense lead—which is not conversational writing—should never have a time reference. In addition, the people were hurt, not tonight, but earlier in the day.

I know some news director told you once to say “tonight” whenever possible to make an old story new, but it just doesn’t work.

Fri, 30 Dec 2005 17:47:02 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Out of”

You can go “out of” a door; you can run “out of” money; if you’re Sgt. Joe Friday on “Dragnet” you can be working “out of” robbery division. However, breaking news happens “in” a location not “out of” a location.

We don’t have a “report on breaking news OUT OF Atlanta. We have a “report on breaking news IN Atlanta.

Please put “out of” on the list of phrases which, when misused, really get me agitated. I’m too old to get agitated.

Wed, 11 Jan 2006 12:26:22 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Very latest”

Just call me Don Quixote, but I’ll tilt at this windmill until I shuffle off this mortal coil.

“Very latest” like “very pregnant” or “very unique” is ridiculously redundant. The news doesn’t get any “later” because you add “very.”

Once upon a time long ago a news anchor uttered “very latest” and a news director and consultant said “this is good.” From that time forward “very latest” joined the lexicon of journalese clichés such as “at this hour,” “only time will tell,” “winter wonderland,” “the nation’s midsection,” and “officials say.”

Please help me in my crusade to stamp out “very latest” before I go to that big newsroom in the sky.

[A 2008 version of this memo follows]

Wed, 20 Feb 2008 16:07:00 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “completely destroyed” redux

Please add to your list of redundant phrases to be avoided “very latest.” If it’s the “latest” it ain’t going to get any “later” just because you added “very.” Sometimes I think we go for word count instead of making our words count.

Cold Warrior: SSG Veazey on the Armed Forces Korea Network, 1970

November 11, 2003
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Another Pet Peeve

Please don’t lapse into police speak and say things like “…the victim was shot multiple time.” (We’ll ignore the passive nature of the phrase for now.) I believe if you were telling the story to your dear old Granny, you might say, “…the victim was shot SEVERAL times.” When you write your stories, think of your dear old Granny.

August 30, 2002
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Conversational, active voice copy

One of our common goals is to write conversational copy—telling a story to our viewers much as we might tell it to a friend.

If that’s our goal, why in the name of Walter Cronkite do we write sentences like: “Anyone who may have any information on the crime is asked to call the police…”

Make is active. Make it conversational: “If you have any information on the crime, call the police.”

September 17, 2002
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Snuck”

Even though I am sure it will eventually sneak into the English language as acceptable usage, at the moment there is no such word as “snuck.” The past tense of sneak is “sneaked.” Please wait until I go to the big newsroom in the sky before using the word “snuck” in our news copy.

July 18, 2002
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Brutalizing”

We said in our 5 p.m. newscast that the Inglewood police officer was caught on tape “brutalizing” a suspect in handcuffs. In my opinion this is an editorial comment and is inappropriate. The objective, observable facts are that the officer is seen on tape slamming the young man into the hood of the police car and he is seen striking the handcuffed man in the face. Whether he “brutalized the man is up to either the police department’s internal affairs division or a jury to decide. Be careful of subjective words.

January 30, 2004
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “No Word Yet”

“No word yet.” Here’s a phrase that needs a rest. Often “no word yet” is the beginning phrase of the last sentence of a v/o, for instance, no word yet how the fire started, no word yet on the condition of the victim, no word yet on what caused the accident, no word yet on who shot John, etc.

“No word yet” often is code for “the P.I.O. hasn’t returned my call.” If you don’t know the information and it’s important to report that we don’t know the information, just say “we don’t know” or “we’ve been unable to find out…” or use your creativity to explain our lack of information.

The first question to ask yourself is, “Why do we need to tell our viewers what we don’t know?”

“No word yet” doesn’t need to be banned, but at least there ought to be a moratorium.

Also, please keep in mind that nothing sounds dumber than the phrase “no word yet” in an evening news story about an event that happened at 7  in the morning.

From TV's infancy

May 14, 2004
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Whether or not…NOT

This is one of those losing battles, call me a stubborn tilter at windmills if you must. “Or not” when used with “whether” is redundant and therefore unnecessary.

For example: A jury will decide whether a person is guilty of something. We don’t know whether dinosaurs could talk.

It’s understood when you use the word “whether” that there is a choice between two conditions, usually true or false. “Or not” is superfluous.

Wed, 4 Sep 2002 13:03:50 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: All
Subject: Keep your hands out of the toilet

Someone, between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., is regularly taking the deodorant blocks out of the toilets in the men’s restroom next to the newsroom and throwing them on the floor.

We all have our phobias and idiosyncrasies, but toiletdeodorantblockophobia is a new one on me. If you are the person who has an aversion to toilet deodorant blocks, please find another way to deal with it. (There’s probably an organization with support groups or a web site.)

Anyhow, keep yer hands outta da terlet!

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form, zero, zilch, nada. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

29 thoughts on ““Another overbearing, opinionated memo”

  1. Richard

    “Completely Destroyed” used to drive me nuts. The same people who used that one were also guilty of “electrocuted to death”, “strangled to death”, and “drowned to death”. Sigh. Thanks for sharing those emails. I am now “completely amused”.

    Reply
  2. Bill Hartman

    I don’t think I have ever seen a “complete summary” of the news at 11, either. Surely something was left out in order to fit it in the 35 minute show.

    Reply
  3. Dirty Laundry

    Bud’s memos are right on target! I’d also like to add there are technically no “points in time.” (Use either “…at this time.” Or, “…at this point.”)
    AND #1 in my book – why do reporters call a crook “gentleman?” Isn’t he rather a suspect – or any of the other specific choice words, i.e. man, robber, thief, criminal, etc.?
    (Just another 2 cents…)

    Reply
  4. gooberpeas

    love his style….and there is substance in his memos.

    “come together” is the phrase that I detest most….yes, they “come together”, but only long enough for the photog to get some vid for the 11:00 broadcast, then that’s the end of it… using the phrase give the false impression that the community (or whoever) is actually going to do something about the issue that led to the news story in the first place.

    reporters would have more credibility if they listened to Bud…if the story is important it will stand on it’s own, there is no reason to get creative with English other than to try to prop up a non-story.

    (hope I didn’t use too many unnecessary quotation marks;-)

    Reply
  5. Bud Veazey

    Over the weekend I heard an anchor say, “In the past hour the U.S. Senate votes to end don’t-ask-don’t tell.” In what language does that make sense? I drafted a memo in my mind, then went back to building a guitar. (see “Present Tense Leads” above.)

    BTW, I’ve thrown in the towel on “snuck”. I think it has officially entered the English language as the past tense of sneak.

    Reply
  6. juanita driggs

    Now I know why I’ve never seen Bud Veazey and Mervin Block in the same place at the same time. It’s because they’re actually the SAME person!

    Bud is also living proof that number two was always sharper and smarter than number one and by staying number two was able to remain happier and experience more inner peace than number one. (There’s more than a little spiritual going on in a gentle man who loves building beautiful hand made guitars. It’s probably something in the E. Tennessee water.)

    Too bad Bud’s not doing his clarity-in-news-writing thing anymore because the writing and delivery have dumbed down again big time.

    Reply
  7. arky

    Just to be a bastard, I must point out that Bud should have used “whom” in the sentence…

    “Police have a “suspect” when—and only when—they know, or think they know, who they are looking for.”

    …and I’ll ignore the fact that the sentence ends in a preposition. :)

    Also, I disagree on the use of “whether or not.” That’s something real people actually say, almost automatically. If we’re going to emulate actual conversations to “Granny,” there will be times when that style is in conflict with ideals of nonredundancy and grammar.

    Reply
    1. Sandi Gurowitz

      Regarding the insertion of “or not” after “whether’: my view is that when there’s a conflict between correct English and conversational or
      popular usage, my vote goes to correct.
      The phrase that’s been annoying me for a few years is “as we move forward” or simply “moving forward.” Can’t get through a news broadcast or a politician’s comments without hearing it. If moving forward means advancing in time, it is meaningless, as it’s not possible to retreat in time. Ahhh…would that it were…

      Reply
  8. Mr. Bear

    The English language has taken a real beating in the last few decades in spite of the best efforts of people such as Bud Veazey. Granted, English is flexible enough to come up with efficient, new and useful words, making it the language of choice for commercial aircraft pilots, in particular. It also is infinitely adaptable; for example, using police / drug terminology to describe other things. Example; “This bag of homemade cookies has a street value of……”

    The downside is that it also allows for laziness, which is why alleged experts in the language get away with things like “At this point in time….”, which dates back at least to John Dean.

    That said, inquiring minds want to know. Mr. LAF, what do you know about the toilet block perpetrator and when did you know it?

    Reply
    1. juanita driggs

      “The downside is that it also allows for laziness…” You can’t fool Mr. Bear.

      Try these on for the ear:

      1) “The perp produced a weapon.” I’ve heard of thugs pulling out guns but have you ever heard a “normal” human being say, produced a weapon!?

      2) Example of the ‘hood’ invading the newsroom: “The deal ‘went down’ at such and such a place” And we wonder why our kids are having serious problems communicating in the mother tongue?

      3) From the overused department: When the cops inevitably ‘give chase’,I can’t help but think of someone ‘giving head’. I guess that’s just ‘my bad’… the product of an old woman’s dirty mind.

      4) R.I.P.-Besides the chronically incorrect treatment of tenses, forms of ‘to be’ unceremoniously died in the newsroom a few years ago and went to reside in ‘verb’ heaven.

      Again, paying the ultimate compliment, Bud’s on a par with broadcast news writing guru, Mervin Block who continues to say it best: shorter,sharper, stronger!

      Reply
      1. Mr. Bear

        “The perp produced a weapon.” Which makes the perp a miner of metal ore, refiner of metal ore, die-casting expert and machinist. With skills such as those, it’s a wonder that he had to fall upon stealing from people to make a living.

        These days, of course, Strunk and White are considered to be musicians who fronted for Chad & Jeremy.

        Reply
  9. Bud Veazey

    Arky, you got me. I always liked it when reporters would catch my mistakes or argued with me about a memo. Not many did except for that Live Apartment Fire guy a couple of times…and of course he was wrong.

    Reply
  10. Mike Daly

    I still hear reporters and anchors say PIN Number and ATM Machine. I want to add these to the department of redundancy department.

    Reply
  11. Been There

    It is blogs like this that remind me why I’m happy at just being a lowly cameraman. “Framing, Focusing and Forgetting about it” is easier.

    Reply
  12. English Major

    It’s very refreshing to know that someone in the newsroom has – I mean had – that kind of respect for the viewers. My pet peeve is journalists who insist on identifying 8am as “in the morning” or “at 3pm” as “this afternoon.” Weather forecasters seem to be the worst offenders, perhaps because they have more opportunities to talk about the time of the day.

    By the way, gooberpeas, you didn’t use unnecessary quotation marks, but you did use an unnecessary apostrophe in “…stand on its own…” ;-) You used “its” as a possessive adjective, not a contraction. Thankfully, this very common mistake shows up only in writing, not in verbal reports.

    Reply
    1. gooberpeas

      you are correct, it falls under the heading of I know better but do it anyway…..
      I also left the s off of gives in “…using the phrase give the false impression …”
      it’s difficult to proofread your own stuff….but maybe I should try it on occasion.

      Reply
      1. gooberpeas

        and just for fun, notice from Article 1, Section 10 of the US Constitution:

        No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

        I guess it’s a very old problem ;-) (the internet is a wonderful thing)

        Reply
  13. daryll

    I cringe when I hear “hot water heater”. If you have hot water, why are you heating it? Another is 12 noon or 12 midnight. Is there a 1 noon or 2 noon? Just say noon or midnight.

    Reply
  14. Patrick

    Thanks for sharing these. Some truly great lessons in these. My mother and grandmother were both strict grammarians, and I have great appreciation for those chosen few who continue to wage war against improper usage of the English language despite seemingly overwhelming odds.

    Reply
  15. Al Volker

    Veazey you’re a saint. There’s a special place in heaven reserved for you. My peeves included “kids” for children.Kids are juvenile goats. Don’t ask questions in teases. Gives the viewer a chance to answer “No”. Stand by for a remote “click” For instance…”are you one of those people who…..” Also the word “likely” is misused frequently for the word “probably”. “The Senate will “likely” resume hearings tomorrow…..” It should be “probably”. And finally…the misuse of the word “over”. He’s been a reporter for over 50 years….nope…”more than” 50 years. Over refers to locatiuon or sense of progress. It’s over, finished. or location “It’s over the stove.”

    Reply
    1. Bud Veazey

      Al, I’m with you on the “kid” thing, and I would add “deadly” to the list of currently misused, and overused, words. BTW, thanks for the beatification. I’m showing this to my wife.

      Reply
  16. Rod

    Bud and Doug: I enjoyed the heck out of the VZ memos and comments. I had the pleasure of working with you guys during all the 1990s and can tell you these memos were issued then and probably re-issued dozens of times in the past ten years as newbies made the same mistakes. I used a lot of your wisdom during my own news director tour of the USA. You’re one of the best Bud. By the way..also enjoyed the AFN photos. We were both in during the same time, but you had me beat by one rank.
    Happy Holidays, Rod

    Reply

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