Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

“Deadbeat Dads”

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 27, 2009

It was an innocent enough piece of copy from our news provider in London:

“A new crackdown on parents who refuse to pay child support goes before Parliament later.

“So-called ‘Deadbeat Dads’ could be stripped of their driving licences and passports without the courts being involved.”

Well, use of the word ‘crackdown’ aside, it sparked a big reaction from our listeners. Why? Because of the phrase “deadbeat dads”.

The script itself even says “so-called deadbeat dads” but that didn’t stop several people calling into complain.

But everyone was using it. I heard BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat use it, without the “so-called”; it also appeared in several newspapers.

And you can see why it’s used – it’s a catchy phrase which makes a bit of a woolly legal story more interesting.

Our callersĀ  – single dads, mostly – felt singled out as the responsible party. Mums, they said, also skimped on child support. Why should they get a hard time in the press? And they’re right.

So what’s the answer? Should journalists avoid pithy catchphrases all together? Or do they make the story more interesting and relatable?

A good bit of advice for other journalists: the complaints weren’t bad news for us. We listened to their concerns, explained how the word made it on radio…and then convinced them to speak on air, giving us the best local audio on this story.

Have a listen