Field Note 06: The most powerful word


“Why, yes. I can help you spell ‘occasion’.”

For almost everyone else, it’s please, or sorry, or some polite thing like that. For reporters, though, the most powerful word you can use–and often the only one you have time to–is “copy”.

Borrowed from radio voice procedure, copy means “I heard what you said, ok, all right.” To a reporter, though, it means so much more (and also so much less).

Did you just get assigned a story? A simple “copy” will let your editor know you’re on the move even as you freak out internally at the miracle of logistics needed to get from, say, Pasay to Ortigas in 15 minutes.

Do you need the desk off your back so you can actually sit down and write a story? “Copy.” If the desk is being particularly nit-picky, or is asking you to Google something for them, you can go “Copy. Copy.” and imagine it is some other more colorful two-word combination.

Note too, that copy only really means you heard the instructions or information relayed to you. You can, in good conscience but bad faith, say you never agreed to Google that thing they asked you to Google.

You won’t get away with it for very long, which will give you an opportunity to test whether it’s possible to respond to a tongue lashing from an editor with “copy, copy”.

When covering something or in the afternoons, copy can also substitute for a temporary thank you to a colleague for giving you extra background information or for helping you confirm that you got the story right.

This, of course, comes with the understanding that high fives and an actual show of gratitude will follow once the story has been filed. Preferably in the form of alcohol.

Another useful word to know: “Choppy”, for when the reception on your mobile phone makes every conversation a guessing game and an exercise in telepathy.

2 responses to “Field Note 06: The most powerful word

  1. Copy in practice can also be ‘Ok’ or its more inane shorthand ‘K’. I found it careless at best, offensive at worst when I was a student. Only after my first desk editor reprimanded me for not acknowledging his texts did I realize what an appeaser or pacifier a simple ‘Kopya’ was.

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