Journalistic Versus Academic Writing
When writing an academic report or essay, one may have weeks, or even months, to carry out the necessary research. Journalists, however, often have to engage in the same process for an article in a matter of minutes. Particularly in terms of news writing, one’s copy must be concise, simple and lack technical jargon. Journalists must not talk down to their reader, but they must also refrain from assuming their audience are experts on the topic in question.
Bernadette O’Sullivan, former Director of NUI Galway’s MA Journalism course, thinks that both writing styles need to be focused, objective, and possess clarity of expression, all while attempting to bring about new knowledge, understanding and, insight. However, Ms O’Sullivan, who also worked as an Assistant Editor with an academic publisher, feels journalistic writing has much more freedom in terms of approach: ‘Strong journalistic writing can create a wave of empathy or a wave of outrage that brings changes in people’s attitudes and even changes in public policy. Other times it simply poses questions which cannot be answered definitively, but leave the reader with something to think about’
Not to add fuel to the argument that some journalists have a god complex, but they are tripartite in nature: at any given time, a journalist is writer, reporter and critic. In a paper entitled ‘Does Journalism Education Matter?’ G.S. Adam states:
The reporter in the journalist is concerned with the identification of news and the discovery of facts that support the accounts of it. The writer in the journalist seeks to create intelligible - at best, elegant, literate, and faithful - texts. The critic in the journalist judges the significance of things and, by a number of devices, adds layers of meaning and interpretation to their description. (Adam, 2006).
Professional academic writing generally appears in publications whose readers have previous knowledge, or even expertise, on the subject matter. Facts and figures, rather than personal stories (as is often the case in journalism), bring the topic in question to life.
On his website Using English for Academic Purposes, Andy Gillett describes academic writing as ‘linear’: ‘It has one central point or theme with every part contributing to the main line of argument, without digressions or repetitions. Its objective is to inform rather than entertain (UEFAP website).
Notwithstanding these differences, journalism and academic writing enjoy a symbiotic relationship. ‘Journalistic writing can be the conjugate between academic research and public knowledge. Effective journalism can make occasionally obtuse academic work amenable to ordinary citizens’, says Ms O’Sullivan. ‘I think we all need a variety of stimulation from what we read and write. It keeps us from being one-dimensional’, she adds. Journalistic and academic writing can complement each other greatly. They are two breeds of the same creature; two lanes on the same road.
American journalist and author John Grogan may well have hit the writing nail on the head when he stated: ‘In the English language, it all comes down to this: twenty six letters, when combined correctly, can create magic. Twenty six letters form the foundation of a free, informed society’ (Grogan, 2007).
Adam, G. S. (2006) Does Journalism Education Matter? Journalism Studies 7:1, 144 – 156.
Grogan, J. (2007) Bad Dogs Have More Fun: Selected Writings on Family, Animals, and Life from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Vanguard Books, New York.
UEFAP (2013) Features of Academic Writing. Using English for Academic Purposes: A Guide for Students in Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.uefap.com/writing/feature/intro.htm on 17 February 2013.
Many thanks to Bernadette O'Sullivan, Journalism Lecturer at NUI Galway, for her contribution to this article.