Journalism needs a new tone of voice

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

This, I think, highlights one of the big challenge to journalists of the 21st Century. People are starting to associate the writing style we’ve been taught – CSWE, for Clinical Standard Written English, as the author defines it – with lack of openness. The legacy of social media is a different standard for the kind of language that makes writing appear trustworthy:

And nowadays — this is where things get interesting — people who write in CSWE actually mark themselves as untrustworthy by doing so. Because the new usage, call it Modern Written English, is everything CSWE is not: first-person, colloqiual, breezy, open, and personal. That’s what readers understand and trust. But if you write like a high-school essay, or the Wall Street Journal? That is now a big red flag. Your readers don’t know you … but they do know that you have deliberately hidden who you are, by donning that mask called CSWE. And on some level they do not like it.

This doesn’t mean that journalists need to adopt the tone of a Reddit poster – but it does mean we need to start challenging some of our assumptions about what constitutes a professional writing style.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.