Media Monday: Learning from Journalism

Stack of Newspapers
As a journalist, along with a creative writer, I recognize that different mediums can require very different styles of writing. However, that doesn’t mean that these various methods can’t learn from one another. Traditionally, news writing is short. Concise. To the point. Prose writing, on the other hand, can have long and flowery language or blunt sentences, as the author chooses; the language is crafted to evoke an emotion and make the reader feel something. What many people don’t realize, however, is that often times, the two can overlap.

Oftentimes, journalists get can get lost in the mechanics of producing story after story, pumping out information ensuring copy and AP style is correct. While the lead may contain all the necessary who, what, when, where, why’s and the story may reflect that highly touted inversed pyramid format, often news stories lose the language that allows readers to truly connect with what they are reading. Some of this is by design. News writing is meant to be unbiased for obvious reasons.

However, this doesn’t mean the journalist has to be detached. Readers know there is a person behind the words they are written, and while they may not care to know the writer’s views on the political proceedings in Washington, this journalist is still the only human link between the reader and the events in the story. Why not let the reader know exactly what it felt like standing among the crowd of the Egyptian protest? Why not explain the horror on the faces of the family watching their house burn down? Nowadays, news is so frequent that readers forget what they are supposed to feel in response. Stellar news writing communicates not only the facts, but also the truth behind an event; the emotion is not forgotten.

At the same time, traditional prose writing can learn a lot from the work of journalists. While prose and fiction have the luxury of unlimited space, this can sometimes be their downfall. Readers really don’t care about a description of every hill, every cloud, every blade of grass to grace a writer’s invented world. While lengthy descriptions are not inherently bad, they can be overused, especially in first drafts. Take a page from the journalist’s book and convey as much information as possible in as few words as possible. Act like you only have the 500 word slot to work with. Besides, it’s often said of important events that the bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Sometimes the most profound thing someone can say uses the less words than you thought were possible to say it.

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