We all have words and phrases that make us cringe when we hear them. From a journalistic standpoint, I particularly hate two useless words.
“I’m told.” Those are two of the most useless words I hear television reporters use these days.
There are some facts that are so commonly understood that attributing the information isn’t particularly critical. But there are other cases in which pieces of information should be attributed to a source. In many such cases, the information is one-sided and might even be accusatory. A reporter should always attribute that kind of information. Otherwise, it appears the reporter is reporting as fact something that may not be established as fact. (At least not yet.)
Even the White House uses the phrase. During a speech back in November, President Joe Biden said this:
And I especially want to thank the young people of this nation, who — I’m told; I haven’t seen the numbers — voted in historic numbers again and — just as they did two years ago. They voted to continue addressing the climate crisis, gun violence, their personal rights and freedoms, and the student debt relief.
Where did he get that information? Who told him? At the very least, he acknowledges the fact that he didn’t personally see the numbers he’s citing. That somewhat acknowledges that while he believes the information is true, it may not be entirely accurate.
But when a reporter uses those two little useless words, I’m told accomplishes nothing.
They don’t say where the information comes from. You’re told? You’re told by whom? Where do you get the information that follows those two words? If you find it important enough to disclose that someone gave you the information rather than it being common knowledge, why wouldn’t you disclose who gave it to you?
If it is common knowledge — in which case no one should have needed to tell it to you — then just state it and move on.