Rogue Ink

May 12, 2008

Serious Journalism Terms. Plus Sex.

Filed under: Journalism,Writing — Tei @ 6:28 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Deep Friar, the other day, asked in all seriousness, after we’d been joking about it all day, what a nut graf was. This after I explicitly told everyone we were not going to be discussing actual business-related subjects. He’s rebellious, is the Friar. To punish him, I am going to answer this question rogue-style. Come along, denizens of the Lusty Weevil. Step right this way. We’re going to make that Friar sorry.

Now then, the basic components of a journalism article are as follows: hed, dek, lede, nut graf, body, and kicker. And if you can resist thinking dirty thoughts about that series, you are a more self-controlled person than I (and Saturday’s dirty joke contestants).

First thing to know: Journalists enjoy screwing with layfolk.

All of those terms are misspelled intentionally. Anyone in an editorial office will claim this is so those words don’t get mixed up with the actual copy of an article and accidentally printed, but this is a lie worthy of getting booted into a deeper circle of hell. One with those people who scratch themselves in inappropriate ways when they’re in rush-hour traffic on the way to work. Like no one can see them behind their protective pane of opaque glass. Oh, we can see you. And so can the Gods of Judgment, and they are judging you as harshly as we are. We can only wrinkle our noses and mutter under our breath, but the Gods of Judgment can SMITE you.

Right. Where was I? The real reason for misspelling the terms is kept a secret from all other occupations (carpenters, pool drainers, CEOs of major corporations, et cetera). I cannot divulge the secret, lest the Ninja Journalists of Hibachi come after me in my sleep, but I am permitted to tell you the following: it involves an elaborate drinking game, an avocado, and (peripherally) Indiana Jones. More I dare not say.

Worth remembering: the only time journalists, English majors, copywriters, copyeditors, regular editors, or anal-retentive people will let you get away with misspelling is when WE have initiated the misspelling. This intention must also have a nefarious purpose behind it, and will probably be to the exclusion of all others. This is because everyone thought it was a cop-out major in college. Who’s laughing now? The Masters of Spelling, that’s who.

Anyway. They’re misspelled. Roll with it.


Hee hee hee. Sorry. Okay. ‘Hed’ is short (and misspelled) for ‘headline.’ This one is fairly obvious. Let’s give our article the headline “Optimus Prime.” Because we can.


The dek is short and misspelled (which we shall hereby refer to as ‘S&M’ for brevity and humor purposes) for declaration. This is a sentence or two just below the headline that summarizes what’s in the piece. It’s not part of the article, it just sort of hangs with the lede like an extraneous buddy. The dek is basically the journalistic equivalent of the ugly friend. A lot of articles do without one for this reason. Ours is “Scientists determine the best sexual position.” See why we didn’t really want it? Feel free to excise it mentally from our article.


S&M for ‘lead-in’, the lede is the grabber sentence. This is the sentence whose job it is to prevent you from putting down your paper and picking up your crying child instead. It is supposed to be either shocking, informative, fascinating, or sexy. We’re going with sexy, since we’re already there. “Doggie style.”

That’s actually a fragment, which is not uncommon for ledes. My lede would actually be a list, in fragment form, and it would go like this. “Doggie style. Missionary. Cowgirl. You won’t need ’em anymore.”

See? Aren’t you intrigued?

Nut graf

The nut graf is S&M for, get this, ‘nut paragraph.’ It basically means the paragraph that’s going to give you an overall sum-up of what’s to follow. The main nugget. The nut. This is more of journalists screwing with you. Pay it no mind. In my experience, frequently the nut graf is where one of two things happens: either you get really psyched about what you’re about to learn, or you find out that you were suckered by the lede and this article isn’t about what you thought it was about. Since our theme for the day is ‘journalists are messing with you’, we’re going to have our nut graf do the latter.

“A team of scientists, attempting to ascertain the best sexual position for those choosing abstinence, determined early this week that the optimal position was sitting in a separate room from one’s partner and conducting a phone conversation. This position has benefits that no other sexual position has, including lack of all sensation, a feeling of numbness and bewilderment, and occasional bouts of anger at one’s parents and former lovers.”


The body is where all the real information is. In our article, we’d talk about the experiments the scientists conducted, quote them, quote their study group if we could get ahold of them, and generally kill you with information. This is the part of an article where most people tune out. Proven fact: if the article is not personally relevant to you and your life, you will not continue reading past the first paragraph. You’ll skim the main body until you get to the kicker.


The kicker is the closing sentence or sentences that make you feel glad about leaving, so here we go.

“Just kidding. Go get laid.”

That’ll teach the Friar to ask relevant questions.

Subscribe or I’ll tell you what a deadline really is.



  1. Hey! I didn’t come here to learn nuttin!

    In truth I worked at a newspaper for a bit so remember all this stuff from there.

    But it doesn’t hurt to be reminded.

    Though did you have to make it so dry and pedantic? Couldn’t you have spiced up your definitions a little and made it fun to read? You could have satisfied Friar without boring the rest of us, couldn’t you?


    Comment by Tony Lawrence — May 12, 2008 @ 11:16 am | Reply

  2. Doggie style…S+M…Missionary…Cowgirls…?

    Heck, if I knew journalism was THIS much fun, I wouldnt’ have gone into engineering!

    Comment by Friar — May 12, 2008 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  3. Nice, Tei! I learned something, I laughed out loud, and I got a bit turned on …

    Comment by Rebecca Smith — May 12, 2008 @ 2:04 pm | Reply

  4. Ahahahahahahahahahaha!

    Your creativity in explaining the nuts and bolts (:)) of journalistic writing was excellent, informative, and inspiring: I’m curious to see how Colin feels when I talk heds, deks, and nut grafs in bed tonight.

    Comment by steph — May 12, 2008 @ 2:55 pm | Reply

  5. Nut graf – for men with small nuts who need larger. See “Viagra,” or “Penis Pluming,” for further enjoyment. Tei, I think you should write for the “dirty” mags. You’d make a right proper dollar there!

    Love this stuff.

    Comment by Ellen Wilson — May 12, 2008 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  6. Dear Penthouse Forum;

    I thought all your stories were made up until this happened to me in real life.

    I was a journalist working in a small mid-western town. I had just missed a deadline, and I was asked to report to the editor’s office. I was sure I’d get fired.

    The editor was a buxom blonde, who told me she wanted some hed. She promised to allow me one more chance, if she’d be allowed to take the lede and give me a nut-graf….

    Comment by Friar — May 12, 2008 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

  7. Tei,

    I’m working here! I was okay (barely, barely stifling laughter) until I read Friar’s Penthouse letter, then I fell off my chair.

    I had to learn this stuff a long time ago in j-classes, yet it was never funny then. I don’t know how they managed to make something I can’t see as anything but funny now, so dry and boring. That’s talent.

    Your body must be solid to function well. Do not forget that.

    Note to self: Read Rogue Ink at home!



    Comment by Kelly — May 12, 2008 @ 6:08 pm | Reply

  8. See? Learning can be fun!
    (I should get astrological redemption points for having ‘head’ in my joke even though it was spelled wrong) 😉

    Comment by Karen JL — May 12, 2008 @ 6:11 pm | Reply

  9. Oh come on Friar, journalism smournilism… you know you chose engineering because when you play with kilojoules in the Steam Tables it can lead to multiple LaPlace Transformations.

    Comment by Janice Cartier — May 12, 2008 @ 6:13 pm | Reply

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was once chastised by a client for using – properly – the hed and dek terms. I took great delight in telling him they were newspaper terms that only journalists would know were correct. And I was tempted, but I refrained from mentioning nut grafs. Oh, I wanted to.

    Comment by Lori — May 12, 2008 @ 8:11 pm | Reply

  11. You are a funny woman. I had to wait until my boss wasn’t sitting next to me anymore to read this, but I’ve had it up all day, eagerly awaiting her disappearance. It was totally worth the wait.

    Comment by Sandie — May 12, 2008 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

  12. @Janice

    Laplace transforms and steam tables are great, but the main reason I went into engineering was because of the Fugacity.

    I can never get enough Fugacity, I tell you.

    Ask Brett. He knows all about it.

    Comment by Friar — May 12, 2008 @ 8:40 pm | Reply

  13. If Brett *doesn’t* know about fugacity, anyone living near his place of employment should start driving away NOW. And quickly..

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — May 12, 2008 @ 9:08 pm | Reply

  14. Tei…




    Just. Wow.

    Comment by Bob Younce at the Writing Journey — May 12, 2008 @ 9:56 pm | Reply

  15. Hey……Bartender……
    I need a drink…my heart is pounding too fast
    That was the dirtiest English class I’ve ever taken.
    the only Penthouse article I’ve ever read.
    Grandma’s don’t read that sort of thing.

    really…I swear…Honest….

    Comment by wendikelly — May 12, 2008 @ 9:58 pm | Reply

  16. Actually, I got one glance at your HED and thought it read, “Sex Journalism” :p Wish that was the ‘nut graf’ and you would’ve given us all a great HED with that. Nevertheless, floored floored by the naughtiness of this post. Keep ’em ‘coming’!

    PS If this comment appeared twice, sorry about that. My proxy server here in China is messing with me. You can just delete the other one.

    Comment by Ksyu — May 13, 2008 @ 1:43 pm | Reply

  17. […] don’t be upset if you can’t crack that nut graf the first time.  As long as it really doesn’t kill you, you have another shot at […]

    Pingback by 6 Weeks — May 15, 2008 @ 11:33 am | Reply

  18. […] on the West Coast. To which I say to him, that’s all well and good, but I happen to think the journalism terms post was damned funny, and you’re cramping my mojo by telling me that only 200 people came […]

    Pingback by Hi, My Name is Tei, and I’m a Widget Addict « Rogue Ink — May 22, 2008 @ 4:04 am | Reply

  19. […] illiterate. Closely related to this is misspelling words whether on purpose or ignorantly. Tei writes, “Worth remembering: the only time journalists, English majors, copywriters, […]

    Pingback by five ways to make nice with an editor « In Other Words — August 20, 2008 @ 3:58 pm | Reply

  20. Tei!

    So, I am writing an article for the Chicago Tribune travel section and my editor asked me for a graf and I was like “whah?” so I googled it and guess whose blog popped up to lay the knowledge smack down on me? YOURS! Amazing!


    your old rome roomie

    Comment by Ashley Colby — January 26, 2009 @ 1:12 pm | Reply

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