Avoiding the Cliche: How the AP’s Rukmini Callimachi Found New Angles to an Old Story

Writing in cliches is an easy pitfall for journalists to fall into, particularly for journalism students still learning their craft. But The Poynter Institute’s website currently features an example of one journalist sharing nuanced views of an issue that has often been over-simplified.

AP West Africa bureau chief Rukmini Callimachi won an ASNE award earlier this month for her series on hunger. She focused on how famine contributes to stunting in children. Each article featured a unique approach. Examples include one following a Tuareg nomad who sold his camel to buy food and one telling the story of a girl learning at a level far below expected ability for her age. Another examines an increase in child marriages that results from famine. “The larger question is what does (famine) do to a community these days,” Callimachi said. “People don’t die from starvation the way they used to.”

Writing about the effects that famine takes on its victims over time makes the issue new, relevant and intriguing. Most people know that hunger plagues so much of Africa; reading another article reiterating that fact contributes nothing to the conversation. Callimachi said that researching stunting and what it does to the brain gave her insights into why the continent remains riddled with problems. “An entire generation won’t be able to reach its potential.”

Journalists may write in cliches when they are under-informed about a foreign issue. Cliches can also result from laziness and lack of originality. To write something worth reading, we have to recognize that every story that can be told, has been told. Our job as journalists is to find nuance in a story and breathe new life into a subject that has warranted repeated coverage. Pursuing different angles and approaches to a much-covered topic is the key to producing quality journalism that equips the public with useful information.



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