carrying the banner | writing lessons from journalism

05 February 2019

I never thought that journalism would agree with me. The life of a journalist can seem glamorous. Writing and traveling, researching and interviewing interesting people. However, I like to be creatively free in my writing. I don't like to be tethered to crunching deadlines with cranky editors scrutinizing my hard work. There's a lot of pressure to be a journalist, and it didn't seem like the life for me.

Over the summer, though, I got the opportunity to get a taste of journalism first hand. Some people I know were starting up a local arts newspaper and asked if I could intern for a little bit as a writer. I only worked for a couple months, and I only wrote a handful of articles. But from that little bit of experience I developed a whole new perspective and appreciation for journalists.

Through working for a newspaper, the biggest thing I learned was just how complex the art of writing can be. There is no straight forward way of writing. A writer can't have a single voice. A good writer must be able to adapt to different situations and audiences. I think it's a lesson I'm going to have to continue to learn and practice for the rest of my life.

As I mentioned, I've always been a creative writer, with exceptions for essays for school. So adjusting to the mindset of writing articles for a newspaper was different. Journalism is very rarely fluffy and beautiful. It's cut and dry, straight to the point.

You don't have a whole book to drag out the story. You often have little more than a paragraph after your lead to keep the reader's attention. Instead of saving all the exciting parts for the end, you have to give it all in the beginning so the audience can get what they need if they don't read the full article. For someone who can be wordy in my writing, it's hard to shift my habits, and sheer off huge chunks of paragraphs to meet my word limit.

Deadlines also become extremely important. When you have a story that's timely, you need to get it out when it's relevant. You don't have time to be a perfectionist or to be nervous. You have to be assertive to get that interview or that picture you need. The scariest part is the feeling that people are counting on your writing. When your editor has expectations, you don't have time to procrastinate. You have to get the article done!

Editors are not nice. They can't be nice when they have to make sure the whole paper is perfect every single week. I would think I had wrote an amazing article, only to find it with a new title, or missing whole paragraphs in its published form. It's hard not to take it personally, but I know criticism is important in growing as a writer.

The life of a journalist is not as glamorous as it may sometimes seem. It can be brutal. But also rewarding. I still can't see myself writing for a newspaper for the rest of my life, but I'm glad I was able to have the experience. Getting a glimpse at different ways writing is fascinating. It's amazing to always be learning more about this craft I love so much.

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