Differences between journalistic and literary writing
Joseph Pulitzer, a famous publisher in the 1800s, stressed one of the most important qualities of journalistic writing in his memorable command: “ Accuracy! Accuracy! Accuracy!” Roger Mudd’s quote on the first slide refers to another important quality of journalistic writing: objectivity. In addition, all journalistic writing should be clear, concise and colorful.
- Nothing is more embarrassing or unprofessional than writing and publishing a story that has factual inaccuracies.
- As a reporter, we were responsible for the information printed in your story. Review everything carefully.
- Our reputation, and that of your publication, is at stake.
- Double-check the spellings of student, faculty, and staff names, as well as grade levels and titles. Refer to official documents listing this information, such as homeroom lists or a school directory.
- Keep a current phone book and an atlas handy to double-check the names of organizations and places.
- Double-check dates, using a calendar
The term ‘literary writing’ calls to mind works by writers such as Shakespeare, Milton, or Wordsworth; definitive examples of all that the term implies. We instinctively associate the term with characteristics such as artistic merit, creative genius, and the expression of mankind’s noblest qualities. Literary works are primarily distinguishable from other pieces of writing by their creative, or artistic intent.
A piece of literature differs from a specialized treatises on astronomy, political economy, philosophy, or even history, in part because it appeals, not to a particular class of readers only, but to men and women; and in part because, while the object of the treatise is simply to impart knowledge, one ideal end of the piece of literature, whether it also imparts knowledge or not, is to yield aesthetic satisfaction by the manner of which it handles its theme.
The writer of this passage emphasizes the distinction between writing of didactic purpose and literary writing which has that other, aesthetic, dimension. In fundamental terms literature is ‘an expression of life through the medium of language’ but language used more profoundly than when used simply to convey information.
The following two extracts, for example, both describing one partner’s response to marital problems, are different in both their form and their intent:
Many critics date the crumbling of their marriage back to that unfortunate episode, but David was delighted when he heard that Lynne had produced a daughter from her marriage to an American doctor.
Her writing hand stopped. She sat still for a moment; then she slowly turned in her chair and rested her elbow on its curved back. Her face, disfigured by her emotion, was not a pretty sight as she stared at my legs and said . .
Literature is a vital record of what men have seen in life; what they have experienced of it, what they have thought and felt about those aspects of it which have the most immediate and enduring interest for all of us.
So literary writing, having creative and artistic intent, is more carefully structured and uses words for the rhetorical effect of their flow, their sound, and their emotive and descriptive qualities. Literary writers can also employ tone, rhyme, rhythm, irony, dialogue and its variations such as dialects and slang, and a host of other devices in the construction of a particular prose work, poem, or play.
The many different genres of the novel constitute a particular challenge to the concept of ‘literary writing’. Detective novels, and science fiction novels, for example, are creative, imaginative, depictions of life. We might question their seriousness as literature, or whether they can achieve the high ideals of art, but then we might equally well question the meaning of ‘seriousness’, and ‘the high ideals of art’. Popular novels may not deal with life’s great conflicts, or search for truth and beauty, and they may deal with the seamier side of life, or escape into the fantastic, but can they still be considered ‘literature’? Do they still make an important contribution to our understanding of the world, as ‘real’ literature does?