Information has been distributed through different news media since ancient times. In China, as early as 202 BC, one of the earliest forms of news media was known as Dibao. In Ancient Rome, as early as 131 BC, Acta diurna was published. Acta diurna was a gazette of political and social events.
Although both these ancient civilizations had their forms of news media, they do not qualify as newspapers because of their lack of mass distribution. After Johannes Gutenberg came forth with the invention of the printing press in 1440, the production of newspapers began. But the first weekly newspaper was published in 1604 by Johann Coralus, in Germany. What breached the dam was the publishing of the first English newspaper in 1665, in Oxford, England. After that, the mass distribution of newspapers all over the world soon began. However, these newspapers did not get made out of thin air. People wrote the articles that the newspapers contained (Figure 1) and these people were called journalists. So, in this second part of the series, the subject will be what it is like being a journalist.
The typical day of a journalist resembles a little bit the routine that authors have. Usually, they get to work early, around 8 a.m. In the morning, they might have to go over the details of their piece, correct any mistakes, select the best stories for the front page and make sure it reads well. Journalists oversee all these details with a team of editors and other writers. After this, they are out of the coop to fish for ideas for their next article. These ideas are found in different events, emails, or even by going to a specific address. The pond of ideas is deep, and as long as the articles are being written from it, all the time spent fishing is justified. There is the possibility of something important going on, and they have to be there. Like a lion circling a gazelle, they need to get all the necessary details and reactions out of the important people. A good composure is also required, to deliver the news at any given time. In other words, broadcast journalists never get to fully enjoy the embrace of sleep. Generally, office hours end at 6 p.m. but that does not mean that they can go right home. Drinks or dinner, with somebody from their network, is a must for them, as they want to be up to date with everything going on. Journalists also want to save their status as approachable so that they continue to have their network, for they need their sources for their pieces to be credible.
How do journalists write their articles though?
First, they structure their information by using the Inverted Pyramid (Figure 2). That helps them to organize the information in logical order. At the top of the pyramid stands the most crucial information about the article. Then, other important details follow along, and in the end, the background info to the piece can be found. This technique is useful, as it gets the point across to the reader, even if they do not have the time to read the whole article.
Including your angle in the headline and lede* is of utmost importance. It carries unique importance, so it is not a problem to repeat it, because it gets people's attention. A few components on how to formulate a strong angle are as mentioned below:
A unique perspective that shows the reader a topic that has not been covered yet. Clear focus, picking certain details and elaborating on them. Being relevant to a specific audience, to make sure that somebody or some people will be interested in the topic you will choose. The usage of concise sentences. Journalists take pride in using vocabulary that can be understood by most people, for they are the consumer of their articles. On the web, paragraphs are usually kept to three sentences or even less. This method helps keep the content simple to understand and easy to read. Also, they like getting to the point, at least good journalists. Readers are not taking into consideration click-baiters (Figure 3) and "journalists" who write a 500-word article, but it is actually an empty shell, where only three sentences are valuable, and the rest is just useless filler. Good journalists do not like to waste words. They write their content according to their need to tell the story, without leaving important details out of it.
They include quotes and outside sources. To produce qualitative pieces, having quotes from trustworthy and respectable sources is a must. As per the outside sources, authentic work also needs them. The presence of outside sources is essential to this work, as it validates it and supports their claims. This is simple to understand, as anybody can write an article, defaming or destroying somebody's image, but if they do not possess the support and quotes, it all fails. It is necessary to have the above sources, as it gives credibility and it does not allow for false journalism to spread its roots everywhere. Moreover, journalists tend to steer clear of excessive jargon. The reason behind this is quite simple, for it aids in the simplicity of the content. Their readers, their audience needs to easily understand the article, and not go through hoops in order to get to the main point. That is why excessive jargon and even technical language are avoided by them. Of course, the exceptions are based on their audience. If the terms are understood by them, they can very well carry on using them. Also, if journalists feel the need to use an obscure word, they must explain what it is. The rule of thumb, that journalists follow is to show their readers, not to tell them. Telling them is much easier, while showing is naturally harder. But, there is the issue, most of their readers know what to do, but not how to do it. Generally, they choose descriptive words in order to clarify a certain scenario. Sometimes, visual content is used to show their story in fewer words.
Most of these tips have come from the master of writing, Ernest Hemingway. He is known more as an American author than a journalist, but his career started in the field of journalism. To put it in simpler words, there is the old question, who came first the chicken, or the egg? Hemingway became known for his short stories and books. Later, his work in journalism was taken into consideration. However, he honed his skills while being a journalist and writing articles. His acquired skills from being a journalist helped him in writing those impactful stories and gaining the status of a well-known author afterward. So the egg is his work in journalism and the chicken is his work as an author. For if he did not perfect his writing as a journalist first, he would have been another author, left forgotten in the dust.
How did Hemingway shape journalism today?
He was a front-runner of simple and clear writing because as is mentioned above a good journalist manages information and shows the readers the value of news. So Hemingway wanted journalists to stop being vague in their articles. Having a good ear to catch every word that gets thrown around you. He was adamant, that there was nothing new in regards to writing. But you needed a certain angle to stand out in a crowd of journalists. He believed that you did not need to have excessive creative skills, just being observant was enough. Also, knowing how to use your observations skills the right way. No limit to achieve perfection. Constant practice (Figure 4) makes perfect, especially when it comes to writing. He honed his writing skills, by writing, rewriting, and rewriting even more. Hemingway stated in an interview that:
"I rewrote the ending to 'Farewell to Arms,' the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied."
This meant that when you are good at writing, the satisfaction with the quality of your draft will not be enough. As so, you will continue to pour your efforts into it, to make it perfect.
Deceive people, so they believe that writing is your passion. He said that:
"It's none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way."
Of course! Good writing needs to be accompanied by some knowledge and a solid foundation. That is why, many journalists, study how to express themselves and how to write properly, despite having a lot of talent. However, it is fundamental to act as it is in your own nature. To act like it is the very air you breathe. Another important point Hemingway made was to write while in the mood. Sometimes you can not write anything, and that is alright. Take a breather, walk around, do something else. Even the best journalists, need time and inspiration to create something remarkable. No need to rush, take your time.
The purpose of journalism, what is it? Why do so many people aspire to be journalists? It is the calling of truth, the calling to inform the public. To help them stay in touch with reality and not lose their grip on it, despite how bleak it may sometimes be. The truth is their mission. The truth is what guides them. The ultimate quest of finding the truth and showing it to the public. That is why so many of them risk their lives in war zones and whatnot, to provide the reader, the audience with the truth.
There is the recurring joke on the internet, that the highest award for a journalist is not The Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, but getting assassinated.
Personally, I am not insinuating that every journalist nowadays faces that threat. The good ones who pursue truth, no matter the costs, do have that constant threat hanging over their heads. For their dedication and desire to put their own lives on the line, I salute them.
Source of the featured image:
Reuters. (2021, July 19). Representative image of a demonstration against attack on the freedom of press [Photograph]. https://thewire.in/media/pegasus-global-weapon-silencing-journalists-cyber-surveillance-spyware
History of the Printed Newspaper. (n.d.). PsPrint. Retrieved July 25, 2021, from https://www.psprint.com/resources/history-of-the-printed-newspaper/
Encyclopedia Britannica. (1998, July 20). Acta | ancient Roman publication. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Acta
Norman, J. N. (2009, January 8). Imperial Chinese Governments Publish Dibao, Among the Earliest News Media : History of Information. HistoryofInformation. https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?entryid=2664
Bright Network. (n.d.). A day in the life of: A Journalist. Retrieved July 25, 2021, from https://www.brightnetwork.co.uk/career-path-guides/journalism-publishing/a-day-in-life-journalism/
Sailer, B., & Sailer, B. (2016, September 6). How To Write Like A Journalist To Be A Better Marketing Storyteller 75. CoSchedule Blog. https://coschedule.com/blog/how-to-write-like-a-journalist
Howe, A. (2016, August 23). What every journalist can learn from Ernest Hemingway. Muck Rack. https://muckrack.com/blog/2016/08/23/what-every-journalist-can-learn-from-ernest-hemingway
Lede - the first sentence or opening paragraph of a news story that immediately grabs the reader's attention.