‘But I’m Not going into News!’ (Why You Need to Know the Basics of Media Writing)


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Vince Filak
This post originally appeared at Vince Filak’s Dynamics of Writing blog and is reposted with permission. The second edition of Filak’s Dynamics of Media Writing: Adapt and Connect published this month.

When my daughter was 5 years old, she often protested doing something my wife or I asked her to do with a whining version of, “But I don’t WANNNAAAAAA!” When people get older, they realize that’s not an acceptable answer, so they adopt a different tactic.

In the case of many of my students in the Writing for the Media course, the latter-day version of “I don’t WANNNAAAAA!” is “But I’m going into PR! Why do I need to know this stuff?” I get that from a variety of majors including those entering marketing, interactive web management, advertising and public relations. The argument is that if you aren’t a news hound, you don’t need to deal with all this grammar, interviewing and inverted-pyramid garbage.

Think again.

Everything you will do in any media-related field will require you to communicate effectively with other people. This will include written and oral communication, so you need to know how to write and how to speak in a way that gets a message across to people who need it. You also need to learn how to be almost paranoid about spelling, grammar and style as to avoid becoming a laughing stock among your peers and the public.

You don’t want people coming to the “State of the Uniom”

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You also don’t want to advertise in a way that gets kids too excited about going to their “Pubic School”

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You definitely don’t want your brochures to announce the graduation of people in “pubic affairs:

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In PR, your inability to write a coherent sentence shouldn’t lead to a press release like this one (h/t to Nicky Porter at copypress.com):
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If you read through this list of Five Startup Press Release Fails, you’ll notice a lot of commonalities between what makes for good news pieces and good releases: Quality quotes, getting to the point immediately and avoiding jargon. Good writing is good writing in the media, whether you’re writing a press release or trying to translate a horribly written one into a news story.

I have often told students I can teach them almost anything in this area, except for how to “wanna” do it. If you don’t “wanna,” I have no chance of making you care and if you don’t care, why should the people who will read what you wrote?


Vince Filak

Vincent F. Filak is an award-winning teacher, scholar and college media adviser who serves as a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, where he primarily teaches courses on media writing and reporting. Prior to his arrival at UWO, he served on the faculty at Ball State University and also taught courses at the University of Missouri and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He also previously worked for the Wisconsin State Journal and the Columbia Missourian newspapers. He has written several books for SAGE, including Dynamics of Media Writing.

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