Wick Communications

Is this writing?

In Books on March 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm

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This thing we do, is it writing?

I guess it is, at least in the strictest sense of the word, because we form letters into words that together become sentences that we attempt to string into some coherent logic. But newswriting is also something different than many other forms of writing.

At least Bob Baker thinks so. He is a former reporter, editor and writing coach for the Los Angeles Times. Back in 1981 he wrote a book that still sits on my shelf. It’s called Newsthinking: The Secret of Great Newswriting.

It’s a slim volume that I highly recommend. He argues for many wonderful things in his book, including the need for what he calls a “perspective paragraph. These are so often missing in our journalism. The perspective paragraph tells readers why what they are reading is important. It provides context and sometimes can be done in a single sentence.

Anyway, in the introduction to Newsthinking, Baker forwards the provocative notion that newswriting is not the same as writing: …

Newspaper writing is not writing. No more than shooting a basketball at your front-yard hoop is like playing in a basketball game with nine others. Or strumming a guitar is like playing in a band in front of 3,000 people. “Writer” connotes the sun, reflecting on the forces around it. The reality of “newswriter” is the asteroid, being tugged at violently from every angle – bitchy sources, bitchy competitors, bitchy editors, bitchy readers, deadlines, space limitations and the emotional fragility those pressures create.

At the heart of what we do, he says, is “to continually make aggressive choices about raw data you confront…”

Personally, I think you can make too much of this. I think the differences between writing and newswriting amount to distinction rather than dichotomy. There is certainly overlap between the work of writers and newswriters. But it may be useful to acknowledge the differences. We are buffeted by strong winds that may never reach someone like, say, Stephen King or Taiye Selasi.

What do you think? Are we writers or engaged in something unique unto itself?

Clay

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  1. I like what it said in “On Writing Well” writers are lonely isolated and almost antisocial. They withdraw and write by themselves. News writing means that everyone has got a say in what you write and all have their own opinions. News writing is by committee.
    After four editors in seven months, I have come to the conclusion everybody has different opinion all of them are right and all of them are wrong.
    Conclusion, follow your own path, heart and vision and see were it leads you. I ask, why can’t we be both? The most important thing about news writing I’ve learned, just write it and walk away and let whom ever do what ever they want to get it to print. News writing is not about the writer, its about the story. I never want someone to say how well its written, I want them to say what a great story about you know who was.
    I’m just a semi-hack writer who is writing news and is having fun making new discoveries and laughing at some of the same ole’ things that just never change, the human ego.

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