Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Journalism vs. Creative Writing

In High School one of my English teachers worked hard to convince me that I had writing skills.  She suggested that I take a Journalism class.  That lasted about two weeks.  Honestly, how is it possible to slice, dice, and chop the written word into sharp, concise sentences that can summarize the life of a 97 year old into 5 lines or less?

When our teacher, (who was very talented, by the way), explained the age old story about what the audience wants to hear, dog bites man is passe...not interesting.  On the other hand man bites dog, now THAT'S a story.

I personally would rather not read about ANYBODY getting bitten,  If it were left to me, crime reporting would only happen in our police offices across the nation.

A creative writer might describe a sunny day in this method.  "The sun shone brilliantly, reflecting off a crystalline lake.  A journalist might say, "The sun shone, the lake was pretty.  Not a brilliant comparison on my part but a relatively accurate one.

Use of hyperbole in journalistic writing is forbidden.  My sweet church going, God loving Mama once said to me when caught in an obvious fabrication of the truth, "If I told the story exactly how it happened who would want to listen?"  Who indeed?  She passed on to me the desire to add to a story, not delete.  In fact, I have been given a wonderful skill set.  The ability to make a SHORT story, LONG.  I quickly realized that if hyperbole was forbidden, I was in the wrong place.

 Newspapers are threatened to go the way of the Stegosaurus.  No more crisp words folded neatly on paper.  We will gain our news via the internet.  Gone will be our newsy youngsters, out earning a living by tossing a newspaper accurately on your porch. 

Can you imagine what chaos would reign in our newspapers if creative types like me were given free rein as reporters?  Suddenly stories that could be adequately covered in 100 words or less would spring into novelettes.  There might even be mini-series in print.  There would be MORE paper used in the paper. My consumption of paper might cause environmentalists to rise in protest.

Envision this writer's report.  "Man bites dog.  There was a report printed last week that dead pets were showing up on doorsteps all over town.  The creatures are basically zombie's.  They are inherently evil.  A man was bitten by his evil zombie pet, and he in return bit his pet.  Madness may be ensuing."

I will let you guess as to the identification of the aforementioned imaginary newspaper article.  What about this delivery?  "Joyfully she gazed into the man's eyes.  She had finally found her life's love.  He was not handsome.  He was not brilliant.  He was hers.  That was all she wanted."

To sum up this rambling post, the journalistic class taught me a few principles that I recall profoundly.  One of these is the cut-off paragraph.  That is the very last word on the subject that is not necessarily important and can be "cut-off" if needed to provide space for other articles.  Of course, the discretion would belong to your editor.  He alone would decide...

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