Caitlin Kelly

Writer and Editor



Take Good Care of Yourself
It Takes a Village
Someone's Life
Trust Your Gut!
Getting Fired
What It Takes
When the Going
Gets Tough
Intellectual Archeology
The Best Writing
is Rewriting
Use a Dictionary
Carefully Chosen Language
Running a Home-Based Business
Quality Control
Coming Up with Ideas
Selling the Story
Paying Attention
Play Dates
Getting It
  If you open New York City's Green Book (which for 2006 is Orange, in honor of Christo's Gates) --- you'll find a four-page list of acronyms, some of which (FDNY, NYPD, ACS) are pretty familiar to anyone living and working in New York.

But how about EPIC? (Elder Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage.) Or YES, the Commission on Youth Empowerment? New Yorkers quickly learn that TL & C is not tender loving care but the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

When I lived and worked in Paris, I was at first overwhelmed by a sea of unfamiliar acronyms, from IVG (an abortion) to SNCF (the national railway) to HEC (a top business school.)

If you work in journalism, you'll also learn its own jargon:

Above the Fold: Prime real estate in a broadsheet paper, it's the placement of important stories atop the front page above the crease when the paper is folded double; when displayed on a newsstand or in a newspaper box, the most visible.

Advertorial: Copy that has been paid for by an advertiser and is clearly identified as such. (Lucrative freelance work.)

Agate: A photographer's credit. Also a word for the teeny, tiny type used for stock tables and sports scores.

ASJA: The American Society of Journalists and Authors. Based in New York City, this 1,000-member group (including me) helps journalists and authors in a variety of ways: learning about publications' pay rates, kill fees and how editors treat their writers; fighting for better treatment of writers; holding an annual conference in Manhattan each spring open to anyone. Their member-only on-line bulletin board is a great source of advice, insight and moral support from professionals across the U.S. and Canada. Check them out at

Back of the Book: Where op-eds and essays sometimes appear in a magazine. It is what it describes.

Book: A magazine; as in "front of the book."

Broadsheet: Newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are broadsheets, in their size and shape. It also connotes a serious and more thoughtful approach to news.

Budget: The running list of stories planned for that day's paper. There are usually two or three a day, with stories listed by slug and reporter(s), in order of importance, and broken out by section: city, national, sports, features, business.

Byline: The writer's name at the start, or end, of a story. Major and complicated stories, especially at daily newspapers, may carry several by-lines as reporters divide the reporting and one, usually, writes the finished story.

Church and State: The historic division between advertising and editorial, jealously guarded by the best publications, to help maintain editorial integrity.

Copy Editor: The editor, at a magazine or newspaper, who checks all writing (i.e.copy) for errors of fact, libel, spelling, grammar, context, etc.

Controlled Circulation: A magazine, unavailable on the newsstand or by subscription, sent only to readers selected by their age, income, zip code or other set of demographics and thereby considered attractive to specific advertisers.

Coverline: Ten Ways to Trim Your Thighs! Make Him Swoon! These are coverlines, of the type you'd find on a women's magazine. Virtually all magazines, and tabloid newspapers, use these one-line teasers to lure readers inside. (Freelancers eager to sell a story should envision the story's coverline to define the appeal of their pitch.)

Curtain-raiser: A story written in advance of an event... a look at the new Olympic stadium or security measures before the Games begin, for example.

Custom Publishing: Magazines conceived of, created for, and written to, a specific audience: people who own and drive Jeep cars or who shop at Target stores. Copy is essentially dictated by the needs of the sponsoring client.

Cutline: Another name for caption, the description of the contents of a photograph. Reporters should always get the name, age and all contact data for their subjects to share with the photographer and/or photo editor.

Dateline: Not, as it suggests, the date of the story but where it's reported from, e.g. DES MOINES, Iowa.

Deck: A two-line teaser for the story.

Desk: Each section of the paper or wire service has an editor and may have its own staff. The national editor runs the national desk, the city editor the city desk, etc.

Editorial: A publication's edited material: art, graphics, copy. Also an opinion piece written by a staff editorial writer, part of a newspaper's editorial board, that speaks with the institutional "voice" and authority of that publication.

Feature: A longer story that goes into greater depth on an issue than typically possible on a breaking news story. Features try to put an issue into greater context and should include a wide range of voices and sources.

Flag: The newspaper's name and logo. At the New York Daily News, for example, a small red symbol sits between the words Daily and News. It's a stylized Speed Graphic, the premier news photographers' camera of the 1940s and an allusion to the paper's prominence in news photography.

FNASR: First North American Serial Rights. What every writer hopes to sell, the first opportunity for a publication to use their material. After that one-time use, for which a set fee is negotiated, you're free to re-sell any or all of that story to other buyers. You own it.

FOB: No, not freight on board. Front of book, the short items in the front section of most magazines.

Hatchet job: A hatchet job is a story that clearly attacks someone or something.

Hed: The headline on a newspaper or magazine story. Contrary to popular belief, reporters at newspapers never write their own heds (copy editors or editors do), although an editor at a magazine, especially a smaller or trade publication, may write, edit and write heads for the same piece of copy.

Kerning: Compressing type to squeeze more words into one line.

Kicker: The last paragraph of a story. Especially on features and magazine pieces, it should leave the reader with a clear sense of closure and something thoughtful, whether funny, sad or provocative.

Kill Fee: A sum of money paid for a story that has been "killed" and will not be used. Usually 25, 50 or 100 percent of the contracted payment.

Lede or Lead: The first paragraph - although it can be as short as a sentence or even one word - of your story.

Masthead: The published list of a newspaper's top editorial and business executives.

Nut Graf: Usually three or four paragraphs into a longer feature, the nut graf defines why you're reading the story right now. ("While bi-partisan squabbles hold up a number of proposed health-care bills, 43 million Americans remain without health insurance.")

Op-Ed: An opinion piece that runs Op(posite) the Ed(itorial) page.

Photographer: NEVER say "This is my photographer" when you're a writer out on a story together. They are THE photographer, not your personal adjunct. (Do they call you "my reporter?")

Profile: An in-depth look at a person, place or organization. A well-done profile should, among many other things, give readers a strong sense of what they do, (professionally and maybe personally), why they do it and whether they do it well.

Puff piece: A story with no criticism of the subject. Pretty much the norm when covering celebrities because (perceived) negativity can destroy future access, for both the writer and the publication.

Rewrite: What every writer has to do, many times in their career. Hopefully, you do it enough times before you submit your story that you're not asked to do it many times afterward. It's also a noun, a specific skill and job within a daily newspaper: the person who stays in the newsroom and, working from sources like TV, radio, reporters' notes and wire services, assembles a story. They don't go out and report the story themselves but make it lively and compelling using others' reporting.

Slug: The one-word name for your story: KIDS or COPS.

Spike: To kill a story.

Tabloid: A newspaper smaller in size than a broadsheet, like the New York Daily News, New York Post and many of the British dailies. With much less space than most broadsheets, competition for stories is intense.

Well: Where the long, main features are found, in the middle of most magazines. A term used only in magazines.

Widow: A one-word sentence that, in magazine copy, looks weird and is often cut to save space. Like

WMFH or WFH: A work made for hire or work for hire. Not what you want! It means that they have bought every right to your material and now own it outright. You may not re-sell it, in part or in whole.