There’s No Need To Run Through Some People’s Résumés On First Reference

It’s been drilled into our heads that we should include at least a bit of a person’s biography on first reference. So this guidance is a break from tradition. Here goes:

If someone is well-known, it will often feel and sound more natural to move that bio material to later in a Newscast spot, blog post or show piece. In some cases it may not even be necessary to include all the biographical information you’re tempted to fold in.

For instance, rather than beginning with a reference to “2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin” or “former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin” or “former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin,” simply slip one of those reminders in later.

In most cases, there’s no need to remind the audience on first reference that Hillary Clinton is a “former secretary of state,” “former senator” or “former first lady.” You may need to say “Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton,” but there are more conversational ways to get that information across as well. For instance, by talking about “Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the White House” and getting the word “Democratic” in at another point.

It’s unlikely you would start a conversation with a friend by saying “Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.” You would say “Bernie Sanders.” In many cases, we can do the same and let the references to his run for the Democratic nomination, the senate and Vermont come in naturally.

This guidance is mostly about politicians, but can apply to others as well. “Former Beatle” doesn’t always have to go in front of “Paul McCartney.” Oprah Winfrey can stand on her own for a line or two. “Boxer Muhammad Ali” may not be necessary on first reference.

Here’s the takeaway: We don’t have to be bound to the notion that first references must be mini résumés. Use your judgment.

Related notes:

– This does not change the way we refer to sitting presidents, vice presidents and other world leaders. We’re sticking with formalities on first references to them.

– Party IDs are key information in stories about policy makers and politicians. If you don’t include an “R,” a “D,” a “Democrat” or a “Republican,” you will hear from readers and listeners who say you’re trying to hide someone’s affiliation.

– If the news is about legislation that’s being introduced, a hearing that’s being held, results of an investigation that are being released or other official business, we stick with tradition. It would be “Sen. Jane Doe” or “Attorney Gen. John Doe” on first reference.

– It should always be “Conqueror of the Unpronounceable Word Korva Coleman” on first reference.

(“Memmos;” Feb. 1, 2016)

February 1, 2016

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