Print journalism is not dead, and it’s not dying. It is receding in importance, however.
But print is still a viable form of information presentation. Newspapers, which once dominated all of journalism, find themselves caught in an economic vice of shifting platforms, difficult economic times, falling subscriber numbers, and increased competition. Newspapers have never had to be particularly inventive, and for the final half of the 20th century, they enjoyed a monopoly within their geographic area. Consequently, newspapers have not be well suited to meet the challenges of the early 21st century.
Magazines have suffered too, but not like newspapers. Magazines, with a few notable exceptions, have lived on an economic edge that fitted them to face some of the same challenges confronting print. They were never a monopoly and could count on a defined and usually committed readership.
Student journalists should ready themselves for print journalism just as they must prepare themselves to conduct other forms of journalism. Print is emerging from the miasma of the first decade of this century as a form particularly suited to what we are beginning to view as long-form journalism. This is journalism that is not breaking news. Rather, it’s the journalism that takes time to both produce and consume.
Instructors who have used previous editions of Writing for the Mass Media will find a lot of what had been Chapter 5 in this chapter of the eighth edition. Our emphasis here is the reporting and writing of stories that are emerging as more suitable to print. Many of our students come to our journalism/communication programs with the idea that they would like to write for a magazine — that they would like to do long form journalism. Here’s where we can introduce them to some of the concepts that will help them achieve this goal.
Key terms and concepts
The following are some of the key terms and concepts that a student should understand and be able to put into practice by the time he or she has finished this chapter.
Transitions — One of the keys to good writing is being able to tied information today in a readable, interesting and coherent fashion. Stories do not tell themselves. They need reporters to select the information and put it into an acceptable form. The section on transitions in this chapter is a particularly important one.
Attribution — The concept of attribution was introduced in previous chapters, but in this chapter the student will need to understand it well enough to put it into practice. The student should know why attribution is important, when it should be used (and when it is not necessary), and what forms of attribution are acceptable in writing the news story.
Direct and indirect quotations — Special attention should be given to making sure that students understand the difference between direct and indirect quotations. If problems develop in this area, one exercise that an instructor might give is to select some direct quotations from the examples in the text or the exercises at the end of the chapter and have students rewrite them as indirect quotations.
Accuracy — This subject is again dealt with, as it has been in previous chapters. Students should pay close attention to the details of what they write as well as to the major parts of their story.
State of the news media. For several years, the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism has produced a detailed and insightful annual report on the state of the news media. The report has separate sections on newspapers, magazines and other media forms and industries. These reports are well worth some time and study.
Expensive misspelling. Tell your students (as you undoubtedly do) that they need to spell correctly and that they should check their spelling. Not doing so can turn out to be an expensive proposition. That’s what the folks in Livermore, Calif., found out in 2004 when they spent $40,000 for a mosaic for their new library. The artwork contained 175 words, many of them names of writers, scientists and artists. Some 11 of those words were misspelled. They included Shakespeare (Shakespere), Einstein (Eistein), and Gauguin (Gaugan). The Miami artist who executed the work at first claimed artistic license (maybe some of your students have used the same excuse) but later said she would fix the problem words. Unfortunately, the city of Livermore had to pay her $6,000 plus expenses to do that. California law requires that public artwork cannot be changed without the consent of the artist. Some people are blaming city and library officials as well as the artist, saying they should have checked the spelling before approving the artwork. You can read more about this in the news stories of the San Francisco Chronicle[EB1] .
Idea. Collect. Focus. Draft. Clarify. Roy Peter Clark, one of the Poynter Institute’s writing gurus, has done it again. He has given us an excellent article about writing. This one concerns the writing process itself, and he begins with Donald Murray’s five-word outline of what writing is: idea, collect, focus, draft, clarify. This simple model universalizes the process, whether the writing is for the annual report of a stock brokerage company or the most compelling piece of journalism. A writer begins with the idea (often, in a journalist’s case, the assignment); collects the information necessary to support the idea (reports); at some point decides what the writing is to be about; writes the piece; and then edits it. Clark has his own revision and expansion of Murray’s outline, but this is a good way to begin thinking about the writing process. Sometimes students are mystified by what writing is; this outline might help them clarify it.
Writing obits. For years the journalism culture demanded that young reporters cut their teeth on obituary stories—“writing obits,” we would say. The thinking was that obituaries were easy to write and possibly not very interesting or important. Today, in many newspapers (except for the larger ones), the obit story has been relegated to a classified advertisement. But writing obits is important work. It always has been. Bert Barnes spent 20 years at the Washington Post writing obituaries before retiring in March 2004. He has written an article for the Post about his experiences on the obit desk. In it he says:
I loved that work. It taught me that even in the monotony of the daily grind, life could be funny and beautiful, surprising and strange. Death is no big deal if you don’t love life. I only wish I could have met more of the people I wrote about.
One of the first exercises I had in a beginning news writing class in college was to write my own obituary. All of us in the class had to do that, and we had a lot of fun with it. I remember trying to figure out who the pallbearers would be. I still think that’s a good assignment for a beginning student because they have all the information available without having to interview anyone or look anything up.
Clichés. One of the most dangerous traps a writer can fall into — especially a beginning writer —- is the use of clichés. Clichés are overused expressions that have lost their freshness and vitality. Chances are, if you hear a new expression more than once among your friends, it has already reached the status of a cliché— and it should be avoided like the plague (!! CLICHE ALERT!!). We’ve included a list of clichés on this web site that should be avoided, but the list is not complete. You can probably add to it yourself.
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