Beginning journalism students often try to insert themselves into the story, and they have a hard time understanding why they shouldn’t. It was explained to me that the reporter shouldn’t be part of the story. So here’s how I explain it: I ask, “Did you ever watch the movie ‘Men in Black’? Well, as a reporter that’s what you are. When they went out to investigate space aliens and UFOs, did any of the civilians remember they were there? No.” And this student today was like, “No! Because they used their neuralizer!” And I said, “That’s right! They used their neuralizer! Reporters are like the Men in Black in that way. They are not seen and they are not heard in any news report that they write. They are visible in the byline. That’s it.”

I made that analogy during a discussion among journalism professors on a Facebook post a few years ago. It resurfaced yesterday, and I’m so glad that it did during one-on-one consultations with my public affairs reporting students. I’d actually forgotten about this tactic because it hadn’t been necessary the last couple of years.

Well, one of my students who just couldn’t resist inserting himself into the story with stuff like “In our short interview, X told me …” and “X said when we talked about Y for this story” finally got it when I brought up the Men in Black analogy.

And as a bonus, I thought of another way to explain why synonyms for “said” are wasted creative energy: The NBA All-Star Game. There’s a place for creativity on the court and a place for discipline on the court. Go wild all you want in the lead and with your ending, which are the Slam-Dunk Contest in this analogy. But use “said” at the free-throw line, which is about quietly getting it done without thinking by putting your feet place, using the same amount of force, launching the ball the same way, following through the same way every single time. Anyway, I think he got it.