Reading: Writing for the Mass Media, chapters 1, 2

Welcome to JEM 200.

This course is about journalism.

Journalism begins with reporting and writing.

This course is  also about writing — first and foremost, how to write well in a professional environment. Secondly, it’s about how learning how to write in the major forms of writing for various mass media.

This course is also about reporting – gathering information. Not just any information but information that can be processed into something we call “news.”

This course is important — possibly one of the most important that you will take. Why?

• Journalism begins with reporting and writing.
• Writing and reporting are skills that reach beyond journalism.
• Writing is central to all media industries.
• Writing is the mark of a well educated person.
• Writing is a powerful activity. The ability to control and articulate ideas and information gives you power over what other people know and think about.

What’s different?

This course is different from all other writing course that you have had in two important ways:

First, we emphasize information. The major purpose of writing for the mass media is to present information.

This information should be
— recent
— verifiable
— medium specific

Second, one of the purposes of this course is to teach you how to report and write in a professional environment. That is, we want you to understand what the demands of professionalism are and what you will need to meet those demands.

Third, writing in a media environment usually means writing for a mass audience. Chances are, a lot of people are going to read or hear or see what you write (not just your English professor). Understanding that audience is a big part of learning to write for the mass media.

Finally, there is the concept of modesty. By that we mean that good writing for the mass media puts the writer in the background and emphasizes instead the content of the writing. An audience doesn’t care what you think or how you feel about what you are writing. The audience wants information, and it wants that information presented accurately, completely, efficiently and precisely.

Writing that is modest
— doesn’t call attention to itself
— doesn’t call attention to the writer
— emphasizes the content
— is generally free of opinion

Four characteristics of media writing

  • accuracy
  • clarity
  • efficiency
  • precision

Accuracy is the chief requirement of a writer for the mass media. This is not just a journalist’s requirement. All writers are expected to present information accurately and to take some pains in doing so. Many of the procedures for writing for the mass media are set up to ensure accuracy.

Clarity means that you should present your information using commonly understood words and phrases and in a context so that it can be easily understood by a mass audience. Your writing should answer all of the questions that could be expected by the audience. (Not all of the questions that could be asked, but all those that it takes to understand the information.)

Efficiency is one of the most prized writing characteristics. Efficiency means using the fewest words to present you information accurately and clearly. Efficiency is difficult to achieve because

* most of us write inefficiently, especially on first draft
* most of use do not do a good job in editing our writing
* the world is filled with inefficient writing, and we often fall victim to it.

Precision means that as a writer, you take special care with the language. You know good grammar and practice it. You use words for precisely what they mean. You develop a love for the language.

How do we learn to exhibit these characteristics in our writing?

First, we pay attention to the basics.


The world in which we report and write

The major fact about journalism these days in the development of digital media. The environment in which journalism is practiced and produced is changing radically from what it was five or 10 years ago. This change may not be as apparent to you as it is to those who are 30 years old and older, but it is palpable and important.

So how do we understand this change?

One way is by comparing the web (and its mobile descendents) to what is now termed the traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio and television, etc.). Here are some of the characteristics of the web as a news medium that we must understand:

  • Capacity The web can handle more material than either print or broadcast.
  • Flexibility The web is a platform for a variety of forms – text, audio, photos, audio and video – and journalists must decide what form to use to present their information.
  • Immediacy The web is an immediate medium; information can be posted immediately, even as events are in progress, and journalists must learn how to do this.
  • Permanence Nothing on the web need be lost, and everything that is on the web is retrievable and easily duplicated.
  • Interactivity Readers, users, and other journalists can contribute to the coverage of a topic or event;
  • Linkage Journalists tap the power of the web when they learn how to link their content to other information.
  • Mobility Cellphones and hand-held devices are the medium of choice for many news consumers; journalists who want to communicat with them have to understand the nature of this mobility.

The world of journalism is changing as we speak. No one has a good handle of what it will be like a year or three years from now. One of the people who thinks a lot about these things is Clay Shirky, who teaches journalism at New York University. Take a look at what he has to say in this eight-minute video:

About this course

As an JEM 200 student, you are required to attend the Thursday evening lecture as well as a writing section that meets twice a week. Attendance at both are extremely important to your success in this course.

Every student has three responsibilities: prepare, attend, engage.

In the lecture, you are expected to be an active listener. Questions and comments are welcome at any time, but chances are that you are not going to say much. Still, you should listen closely, take notes and participate in other ways when asked.

A student’s responsibilities from Jim Stovall on Vimeo.

What responsibilities does a student have in a class like Journalism and Electronic Media 200 (Introduction to writing) at the University of Tennessee? Dr. Jim Stovall, coordinator of JEM 200, explains that there are thee and reduces them to three words: prepare, attend, engage. Photo credits: Morgan Thompson.

Rules of civil behavior that we observe in lecture include

* If I am talking, you should listen; if you start talking, I will stop and listen.
* Sleeping and reading a newspaper are rude behaviors that will not be tolerated.
* If you cannot avoid being late, come in and seat yourself quietly.
* Don’t pack up to leave before the lecture is finished.


Attendance is an important part of this course. Part of becoming a professional — which begins with this course — is regular and dependable attendance. Students who do not attend will find they get very little sympathy from lab instructors or the professor. More students fail the course for lack of attendance than for any other reason.

You should review the attendance policies on the Attendance page and fill out the form on that page if you have not already done so.

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