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Journalism vs. creative writing

By Jason Wong
On April 4, 2013


By and large, I've made use of this column to talk about my experiences and advice in the purview of creative writing. I've covered novels and poetry. I've covered creative nonfiction. And in creative writing, there's a plethora of stuff you have to keep several things in mind. When writing it, you have to be wary of structure, diction and fluency, and coherent in your presentation character, plot and themes. But I haven't really talked about more objective writing, like journalism. Journalistic writing differs from creative writing in its core intention. Creative writing seeks to entertain or comment on the human condition, where one word or piece of punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence, paragraph or an entire piece. On the other hand, journalistic writing, especially for hard news stories, seeks to convey information in as clear and concise a way as possible. 

What's most important in journalistic writing isn't what the writer thinks is important about an event or object or person, but what is objectively true. If a journalist is covering a story on a group he or she dislikes, that journalist cannot (ethically) and should not let his or her feelings come through in the article, even if the group is one as unpopular as say, the Westboro Baptist Church. Things are different if you're a creative writer and writing about the WBC. If that's the case, then by all means, compare them to that mold that grows at the bottom of shower curtains. However, if the intent of the article is simply to cover a protest by that group, then such descriptions are unacceptable.

That isn't to say that opinion doesn't have a place in newspapers. Of course it does. The Daily Campus has a commentary section for this exact purpose. Writers can write their opinions in that section without damaging the integrity of the newspaper as a whole. At the same time, they can't write for other sections of the newspaper so as to avoid compromising that integrity. Even so, commentary articles by and large must still be relevant and hopefully timely. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, The Daily Campus ran a commentary piece on gun control. A commentary article can't be used solely for the purpose of making people laugh; it has to have a point. If you're going to write an article on the UConn chipmunks, they should be posing a health hazard, or inconveniencing students at least. Otherwise, the whole thing is irrelevant, and doesn't have a place in the newspaper.

At the end of the day, a newspaper is not a literary journal. It exists to inform its readership in a clear and succinct way. To that end, a newspaper reserves the right to change aspects of an article if it does not fit journalistic guidelines. It is free to insert punctuation, change words, rearrange paragraphs, cut phrases and even insert new sentences to clarify meaning or remove bias, and if you're considering writing for The Daily Campus, you should be prepared and aware of that. 

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