Post Academic

Who’s the best writer? A journalist’s point of view

Posted in Absurdities,Publish and Perish by Arnold Pan on July 20, 2010
Tags: , ,

Now that I’m spending my days editing academic writing, I’m reminded of a post I wrote a few months back making the case for and against academics as superior writers to their counterparts in journalists and creative writers.  Seeing as I’m reading lots of scholarly essays day in, day out, I’m pretty sure what I wrote before goes double for the strengths and weaknesses of academic as writers.  (And if you are an academic reading this post, please, please, please follow the style sheet and formatting guidelines of whatever journal you’re submitting to–it makes the lives of your editors much easier!)

Anyhow, I figured now would be a fine time to continue our battle royale between academics, journalists, and creative writers.  (Gee, we sure are having a lot of competition-style posts these days, though that’s not really the way we mousy post academics roll.)  Anyway, it’s a little hard for me to write this installment in defense of journalists, because I’m not really one, unless you really stretch the category and count freelance music critics.  But I guess I’ve worked for some news publications and know some journalists, so I can at least try to step into those shoes.

Strengths: The strengths of good journalistic writing can come through loud and clear and quickly.  Excellent journalism combines a variety of skills that would seem completely antithetical to academic types, constructing a good narrative that includes lots of helpful information while remaining concise.  Writing style is one thing, but journalists are probably underrated when it comes to their skill sets, which require them to take care of their assignments on time, letting go of an article when it’s done, and to actually work with other people…

More on cases for and against the journalist as the best writer…

Just think about it: While academics probably write best when they’re locked away in some kind of garret office and creative types find a studio or wherever they go to do whatever they do by themselves, journalists have to be around people all the time, not only the folks they interview and write about, but also other journalists and editors too.  People skills and working on deadline might seem quotidian to big-thinkin’ academics and creative writers, but those are two areas that your average beat writer can trump your any PhD and MFA.

Weaknesses: What others might deem an unqualified strength of the journalist might actually be a weakness.  That would be the journalist’s adherence to objectivity and “the truth.”  For folks who don’t insert themselves in their stories, they sure can be a little holier-than-thou about their proximity to “the truth.”  Really, can anyone be *that* objective?  What can I say, I’m a poststructuralist!  I know, this is probably a very facile way to think about journalists and I imagine journalists themselves do some kind of hermeneutics and call it something else, but some of the folks I’ve met do seem to privilege notions of objectivity and truth that only nitty-gritty reportage can apparently get at.  Actually, maybe this is precisely a response to poststructuralism and the kind of secret society built up by academic writers.

The case for the journalist: Those creative geniuses and professorial types just have their heads in clouds, albeit very different kinds of clouds.  While the academic purports to teach, whether in the classroom or to her/his peers by publishing, it’s journalists who are the real teachers by showing their readers about how the real world works.  And really, how can an academic be a better writer, when people across disciplines can’t understand one another–heck, people in different specialties within the same discipline might not catch a colleague’s drift?  Same goes for the novelist or the poet, who try to speak to something that’s shared with a reader, though what that something is can be open to interpretation.  The journalist gets to the point and does so with regularity, which, one might argue, isn’t as simple as it might seem.

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