JOURNALISTIC WRITING

By: Jess Rubinstein

"The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing (Kovach & Rosenstiel 12)." Journalism is the writing style that the majority of people are more familiar with. Good journalism avoids sounding biased or one-sided as to try to avoid making a decision for the reader. Like the quote says, journalism serves as a source of information that people can then extract the essence from and then decide for themselves how they feel about different issues.

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Text cloud for UK journalism jobs


Three General Aims: Every article should accomplish one of these 3 goals. The first possible aim is to entertain. Just like novels and plays use humor, romance, adventure, mystery, drama, and life-like situations to amuse readers, journalism articles must use the same techniques. By constantly observing the “comedies and the tragedies (Bleyer 47)” of events, a writer will always be able to find material. However, a journalist must always remember to keep the entertaining articles clean, wholesome, and full or respect. Informational accuracy must always be upheld and rights of others must always be considered. The second possible aim is to inform. Most people derive most of their information of what is going on in the world from newspapers and magazines. When relaying important factual information, a journalist must first separate the significant information from the trivial. The media greatly influences the way people think and feel about certain topics, so only accurate and essential information is necessary. The final possible aim is to give practical guidance. This is generally the “how-to-do-something” articles. All persons want to know how to be more successful, and these articles just need to consider the class of readers for which an article is intended (Bleyer 46-50).

Types of Journalism Articles:
Foot-in-the-Door Features
This is the best way to break into publication. Readers like these "shorts" that range from 50-600 words because that are quick to read and easy to absorb, as opposed to multi-page articles.

Profile Articles (See Video Below)
When an interview is used to produce either a short article that focus on a specific aspect of an individual or a long article about the person overall. This describes an individual's personal hobbies, interests, or career.
Real-Life Dramas and Stories
Tells a story that is focused on one person and one pivotal event in his or her life.
Service Journalism and "How-to" Articles
This journalism provides useful and practical information that people can apply to their everyday lives. They often focus on consumer information.
Seasonal and Calendar-Related Stories
Publications tend to look for particular articles at special times of the year, such as holidays, back-to-school, tax season, and anniversaries of famous events.
Trends and Topics
These articles focus on recent phenomenon and quote experts and participants who give their opinions about it.

Inspirational Writing
People always look for motivation to get through difficult times in life. Journalism can offer this motivation.
Business-to-Business Features

This type of article is for an audience with very specialized interests and can be found in magazines written for a particular profession or hobby (Sumner & Miller 19-21).
Internet Articles
When writing this type of article, one must always remember to use the inverted pyramid format and keep the most important information at the top. If you are writing on a website it is important to provide constant updates on interesting stories because it keeps readers coming back.
People desire internet information as quickly and effortlessly as possible, so present information in short "chunks (Bukota)."

More On Interviews: Although this interview below is verbal and not written journalism, John Harwood is still a well-known New York Times political journalist who knows how to properly formulate his interview questions. It is very important that the interviewer be very knowledgeable one the person that he/she is interviewing. It is also necessary for journalists to phrase their questions so that their interviewees cannot possibly respond with just a yes/no answer (Sumner and Miller 61-62). The second question Harwood asks of Obama in this New York Times interview is a perfect example of this. “Now you indicated in that speech today that you thought Wall Street hadn’t learned very much in the years since the crises. What has Washington learned, and what have you learned? And I’m wondering whether one of the lessons is “don’t get too close to Wall Street,” because I noticed that you didn’t walk across the street and go onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange today (Harwood).” Harwood asks a complex and personal question with multiple parts, and shows he is aware of the president’s recent actions as well introduces his question with background information from a previous speech.




September 15, 2009 John Harwood of The New York Times and CNBC interviews President Barack Obama about the United State economy, his health care plan and the war in Afghanistan.

Characteristics


Good journalism has certain characteristics that must be addressed. It is important that a journalist be knowledgeable on the background of the event or person they are writing about. Background information makes great leads for a story because it captures the reader's attention. This includes anecdotes about the lives of the people involved in the article, and an example of this can be seen below (Sumner and Miller 62). A journalistic piece of writing must also be easy enough to comprehend because it is meant for the everyday reader. This is like legal writing, in the sense that both are characterized by direct and brief sentences. However, journalism differs from legal, business, and scientific writing by using figurative language and other literary elements to add emphasis to the purpose, while the other three just stick to facts.
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Note the beginning anecdote. This concept cannot be used by any of the other writing styles.


Journalism has specific values that are described as "themes" that have been shown to impact media audiences. The characteristic values of a well written article include impact, timeliness, proximity, conflict, currency, novelty, relativity, and entertainment value. Further explanations are found below:
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Note how this demonstrates the characteristic of "impact." This characteristic is very much attached to emotions, so business, legal, and scientific writing do not share this feature.

Impact refers to the relevance a story has to the audience’s lives. Good journalism addresses the events that the particular audience cares strongly about. For example, people care strongly about everyday things in their community, such as a missing child or storm that destroyed homes in a residential area. (See example above.) Timeliness refers to information that helps people organize their lives. It is important for people to know about the weather predicted or a bus strike before they leave for work in the morning. Proximity refers to how “close to home” a story is. A car crash killing 5 people you know in your neighborhood will have a much greater impact than deaths of thousands of people on the other side of the globe. Many people can't comprehend these events that are so far away from home, which is why local newspapers focus on local stories. Conflict is the value most people associate with media. The job of journalism is to find out the other sides of the story and analyze the strengths of each opposing point of view. The stronger the conflict, the more people are drawn to the article. This characteristic is shown in the first picture below. Currency refers to how important an issue is to the people at any moment in time (see example below). Environmental issues have a currency at the moment that has next existed before. Similarly, the women’s rights movement had a currency in the 1970s. Novelty is any deviance from the norm. New and exciting topics are highly valued in journalism because they make a good story. Anything unusual, like a politician switches sides, makes for good news and ergo, good journalism. Relativity is very subjective. Whether or not a story gets published greatly depends on what medium the journalist is using. For example, some stories are more effective when using television because they add a visual. What determines a good article all comes down to understand the target audience and the news topics that are available to choose from. A struggle with journalism is that journalists constantly hear different points of views and opinions but at the same time he/she must draw his/her own conclusions as to be original (Burns 51-53). Entertainment Value is the most prominent valued characteristic of journalism and it has many subcategories that tend to overlap the basic characteristics. See below.
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Note how this article addresses both sides of the conflict. This is very similar to legal writing, which is required to summarize the arguments made by each side.

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Note how currency is affected by significant events. Scientific and Business writing also includes what issues or findings are major at that time.

One of the necessary characteristics of journalism writing is entertainment value. Subjects that attract readers may be divided into these categories:
  • Novelty. A unique person, object, or circumstance arouses a high degree of interest. People like hearing of others who accomplished something out of the ordinary.
  • Mysteries. Mysterious, whether real or fictitious, pique curiosity. Crimes, accidents, and strange science-fiction phenomena fascinate the average reader.
  • Romance. Everyone loves a love story. Romance is a perennial source of interest for all readers.
  • Adventure. Readers love to lose themselves in the exciting fantastical adventure of someone else. People see articles of great adventure, exploration and discovery as an escape from reality.
  • Contests for Supremacy. Man is competitive by nature. Competition in politics, business, and sports add drama excitement to an otherwise dull daily routine.
  • Children/Animals. These two topics always hold a strong place in the hearts of readers. Happy stories are viewed as adorable and stories of negative treatment are met with outrage towards the cause of such unhappiness. Evoking emotion in the reader is a powerful tool.
  • Hobbies/Amusements. Not the strongest of topics, but people are very entertained by movie and music reviews and certain recreational activities.
  • The Familiar. Local news interests readers because it concerns them and the people and places that they connect with on a daily basis.
  • The Prominent. This involves the people, places, and issues that, although far away, have been central to our culture. Examples include the President, Disney, the Capitol at Washington, and the war on terrorism, just to name a few.
  • Life and Welfare of Others. People are inspired by stories of those who have done great things or have suffered from tragic accidents. Through these emotions that people experience, a journalist could cause his or her readers to feel sympathy, encourage them to do social service, recognize evils in politics and business, and care more about public safety (Bleyer 39-44).
  • Personal Success and Happiness. “To the writer who will show us how to be “healthy, wealthy, and wise,” we will give our undivided attention (Bleyer 44).”
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Note how this relates to Novelty as well as Life and Welfare of Others. None of the other 3 writing styles aim to entertain their readers, they all just aim to portay the facts in as concise a way as possible.


*To read the full Michael Jackson article, click any of the excerpts.

Strengths


One of the many strengths of journalism is its ability to exercise power in choosing the information that will be presented as news and how it is presented. Law, business and scientific writers are required to use a more rigid structure with less creativity on how it is presented. This allows it to be the most entertaining and most enjoyable of the writing styles. The other three styles tend to be dry and terse, which does certainly have its benefits. But those types of works are much less enjoyable, which is why not many people read scientific journals and business reports purely for entertainment.

A second strength of journalistic writing is that it can be enjoyed by a variety of audiences, depending on the purpose. Newspapers are meant for the everyday reader. They are intended for audiences of all ages, so the language is never too advanced because journalists want their readers to understand what they are saying. Word choice and sentence structure are basic enough to be easily comprehensive, but have enough flourish to show the journalists education and skill as well as make the story interesting. The diction however does get more complicated when referring to magazines or other publications meant for a specific professional audience. Journalists choose their words to best reflect the audience.

“Depth and context are newspapers’ key advantages.” The job of a newspaper is to cover substantial and complex issues in as compelling a way as possible. The biggest threat to newspaper journalism today is the internet; it’s much faster and more interactive. But newspapers are nowhere near extinct. The strength of written news lies in the influence it can have over the community. The strength of a newspaper comes from the fact that it becomes the conscious of a city or state and ergo, it unites all people (Rieder). Through newspapers and magazines that millions of people read, we all remain connected.


Absences


The fact that journalism lacks a rigid structure is both a strength and a disadvantage. The creative ability can sometimes cause a lack of impartiality. The goal of good journalism is to provide an objective and unbiased representation of the information at hand. However, it is inevitable that information will end up slanted. It all depends on who or what the journalist is representing. This is most common in sports journalism. Supporters of different teams might have very different opinions of what they have just witnessed, even if the two reporters are watching the same game. A Yankee fan may remark that the winning of the World Series was a “glorious victory much deserved,” while even though another journalist will report the score of the games accurately, he or she may not have such an enthusiastic take on the situation. Despite the different viewpoints, at the end of the day it really is just sports entertainment. But News reporting can also fall into this trap. These are excerpts from two opposing news reports of Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to buy Manchester United football club:


“GOLD TRAFFORD
£565m Sky deal makes Utd most valuable team in the
world…Skyly delighted…Thrilled Manchester United fans
were buzzing with excitement over BSkyB’s amazing takeover
bid yesterday…
(Sun September 7 1998)

RED DEVIL
Fury at tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s plan to buy Manchester United
reached fever pitch last night. Reds fans begged the world
famous club not to sell out and called on supporters to boycott
Murdoch’s Sun newspaper and satellite TV stations…
(Daily Mirror September 8 1998)”


It is easy to see that this passage is from a newspaper that is part of the Murdoch Empire, while the second is one of its rivals. The first excerpt calls the takeover "amazing" and places this business deal on a pedestal. The second has a much more negative tone and refers to the deal as a "sell out." The fact that both of these were written about the same event shows how truth in journalism can be a relative concept depending on the angle a journalist takes. (Harcup 60-61).

Creation of Reality


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Cartoon by Jonathon Brown
All types of journalism shape the reality of the audiences they are addressing. Written journalism gave rise to the mass media, which has the power to influence what the public deems important. The degree of significance a newspaper or magazine gives a topic, the more people will think about it and the more likely they are to share the opinion of the journalism article that they read. A prime example of this is the Terrorist Anthrax Scare which started in October of 2001 following the 9/11 attacks. This October 18, 2001 New York Times article has a title "A NATION CHALLENGED: THE ANTHRAX THREAT TESTS SHOW ANTHRAX EXPOSURE IN AT LEAST 30 CAPITOL WORKERS." By creating such a heading, journalism demonstrates its ability to evoke fear into its readers. The New York Times followed up this article on November 17, 2001, which further increased panic. Yes, anthrax has the ability to potentially be incredibly dangerous, but when one looks at the numbers of the number of people affected in respect to the entire American population, it is easy to see that the likelihood of a commoner being target is incredibly slim. But the way journalists present their stories shape the reality that a reader exists in. This same concept of journalism having the ability to evoke fear can be seen in the journalism political cartoon to the left.

This is very similar to th
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Cartoon by Ron Morgan
e recent hysteria caused by the H1N1 strain of flu, formally known as "Swine flu." Although this strain of flu can potentially cause death, it can be observed that such individuals had some preexisting condition that was escalated by this flu. In general, H1N1 isn't significantly more dangerous to any otherwise healthy individual than any other strain of flu as long as the individual takes care of oneself. But newspapers have used their influence to keep up the panic that H1N1 elicits.

Similarly, magazine journalism creates reality through persuasive facts. This type of journalism helps determine what people perceive as "popular" for a given amount of time. Magazines influence the clothing people wear, the foods people eat, and their self esteem through the way they view their bodies. The cartoon to the right shows how people are easily influenced by what heath magazines say, which shows how easily journalism can create reality for the everyday consumer.




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Works Cited


Bleyer, Willard G. How to Write Special Feature Articles: A Handbook for Reporters, Correspondents and Free-Lance Writers Who Desire To Contribute To Popular Magazines and Magazine Sections of Newspapers. Cambridge: The Riverside, 1920. Print.

Brown, Jonathon. "Journalism cartoon illustration blowup." CartoonStock - Cartoon Pictures, Political Cartoons, Animations. Web. 01 Dec. 2009. <http://www.cartoonstock.com/newscartoons/cartoonview.asp?start=&search=news&catref=jbrn10&NC_Category=&ANDkeyword=journalism&ORkeyword.


Bukota, George. "Writing for the Internet: Keep it short and use non-linear storytelling to your advantage. (Mastering the Art)." The Quill89.9 (2001): 46. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=AONE&userGroupName=udel_main>.

Burns, Lynette S. Understanding Journalism. London: Sage Publications, 2002. Print.

Dick, Murray. "Google Image Result for http://slewfootsnoop.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/journalism_jobs_wordle.jpg." Google Images. 30 Aug. 2009. Web. 06 Dec. 2009. <http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http:slewfootsnoop.files.wordpress.com

"H1N1 Is Still Spreading Globally - New York Times." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 26 Oct. 2009. Web. 01 Dec. 2009. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C02E6DD1F3CF935A15753C1A96F9C8B63&scp=3&sq=H1N1&st=nyt>.


Harcup, Tony. Journalism: Principles and Practices. London: Sage Publications, 2004. Print.


Kovach, Bill, and Tom Rosenstiel.
The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. New York: Three Rivers, 2007. Print.

Morgan, Ron. "Journalism Cartoons."
CartoonStock - Cartoon Pictures, Political Cartoons, Animations. Web. 01 Dec. 2009. <http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/J/JOURNALISM.asp>.


Purdum, Todd S., and Alison Mitchell. "A NATION CHALLENGED: THE ANTHRAX THREAT; TESTS SHOW ANTHRAX EXPOSURE IN AT LEAST 30 CAPITAL WORKERS - The New York Times." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 18 Oct. 2001. Web. 01 Dec. 2009. <http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/18/us/nation-challenged-anthrax-threat-tests-show-anthrax-exposure-least-30-capital.html?scp=2&sq=anthrax+&st=nyt>.


Rieder, Rem. "Playing to Their Strengths."
American Journalism Review 21.3 (1999): 6. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=AONE&userGroupName=udel_main>.

Shenon, Philip. "A NATION CHALLENGED: DISCOVERY ON ANTHRAX; SUSPICIOUS LETTER TO A 2ND SENATOR - The New York Times."
The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 17 Nov. 2001. Web. 01 Dec. 2009. <http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/17/us/a-nation-challenged-discovery-on-anthrax-suspicious-letter-to-a-2nd-senator.html?scp=3&sq=anthrax+&st=nyt>.

Sumner, David E., and Holly G. Miller.
Feature and Magazine Writing: Action, Angles and Anecdotes. First ed. Ames: Blackwell, 2005. Print.

"YouTube-National: An Interview with President Obama."
YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.// New York Times, 15 Sept. 2009. Web. 01 Dec. 2009. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTsDi5hdzuc>.