‘Old’ writer learns new rules

I’m not actually old, but I have been writing for more than 25 years. During this time I’ve summarized court decisions in legal briefs, showcased products with marketing campaigns,  analyzed theories in essays, and expressed emotion through poetry. Still, new lessons arise. 

Adjectives and adverbs. News reporting has taught me to wrestle my adjective and adverb usage into submission.  Although descriptive modifiers bring  stories to life,  they can also interject personal opinion, which is a no-no in hard news stories. I am learning to create vivid images with factual details while reigning in the flowery language.

Person. Addressing readers in second person can seem preachy while writing in first person may appear self-indulgent. Therefore references to “I, me, my, we, us, and our”  should be limited to quoted statements or opinion columns. I view this post as an opinion piece; therefore, it gives me great pleasure to first-and-second-person-it-up all I want to. You know what I mean?

The Associated Press Stylebook – don’t leave home without it. OK, a news writer can leave home without it, but shouldn’t submit any work before consulting it. The AP Stylebook is the journalist’s handbook, bible, and best friend rolled into one. Although I’ve worked hard to etch major portions of it into the deepest recesses of my consciousness, I still consult it often.

Attribution. If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, or experience it for myself, I should attribute the information to a source. Even if I did see or experience it for myself, citing a source is still a good idea, when possible.

Headlines require the old wordsmith hammer and anvil. Headline writing is not as easy as it may seem. Not only do headlines have their own journalistic rules, but they are subject to heavier space constraints than other newspaper content. A writer must be informative, clear, clever and make it fit.

Deadlines must be balanced with personal timelines. When I gather information for a story, the facts float around my head like iridescent flecks in a shaken snow globe. I need to do something else for a while so that the information can settle, and I can mentally digest it.

Casual, journalistic self-expression is good. A blog is a great tool for self-expression without the usual constraints placed on  broadcast or print media. It’s also a great way to tell the story behind the story.

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6 responses to “‘Old’ writer learns new rules

  1. I love this, Era. So well-written and very informative for new writers. You should hand this out to the writers next semester.

  2. I wish as a historian, I could write like a journalist. Ever taken a look a Turabian style?

  3. Era- great post. While I agree with what you’ve written- i wonder if in this world of social media, your thoughts on this topic”Deadlines must be balanced with personal timelines” can support itself. Sometimes news almost runs real time, makes timliness challenging!

  4. You’re right. Social media does make a difference in that a journalist can send out information instantaneously. However, it is important to wait for confirmation before reporting certain facts. For example, CNN reported that the Affordable Healthcare Act had been struck down by the Supreme Court. However, on closer examination, they realized that it had been upheld and only a portion struck down. So although social media gives journalists the ability to report in real time, the media must still take the time to get the story right.

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