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…

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The Journalism vs. PhD Showdown: One, Both or Neither?

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIn a relatively recent post, Michael Bérubé answered a letter from an individual thinking of leaving journalism for a PhD program. This individual is wisely evaluating the potential risk and how grad school might affect his life later on. Now that print journalism isn’t a stable career path, what’s a person who wants to work with words to do?

Bérubé writes,

If you were to start a PhD program in 2011-12, you’d be looking at another four-five years of study, followed by … well, maybe followed by a better market in the years 2015-17, but maybe followed by a bleak market in 2015-17 made bleaker by all the people who didn’t get decent jobs from 2011-15. You don’t want to be adjuncting when you’re 35, this I know. And I don’t see how it’s possible to raise a family on adjunct wages (though many people manage to do it nonetheless).

Okay, so maybe journalism is a better career choice than the academy after all. The odds are slightly better, even with the massive layoffs.

I thought about linking to the article and saying it was cool, but then I tried to think of an answer myself. Must the answer involve an either-or: journalism or the academy?

More after the jump! Image of Pound Choice, Omagh, by Kenneth Allen. On Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

I actually found my career through a series of lucky breaks and a fondness for computers. Now I am a content writer. Once I stopped thinking of literature and writing as a paper-only enterprise, my opportunities increased. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tough (thank you, layoffs!), but there are many ways to apply writing talent that don’t involve journalism or the academy.

There’s also advertising and marketing, which doesn’t come up often enough as a legitimate career option. People view the field with skepticism, and for good reason, as it has a rep for pushing cigarettes on kids and pelting teens with sexualized and violent images. (Farting ponies during Super Bowl ads don’t help, either.)

As with anything else, good guys exist in advertising and marketing. The burden is on you to find them or to find a niche in the field that you are comfortable with. For example, I specialize in writing for the Web, not for print. Other people I know applied their teaching skills by becoming corporate trainers showing people how to use software. Still more become technical writers.

You don’t have to go into computers. There are surprising opportunities out there that allow you to work with words without a) starving to death or b) feeling like a sellout. I won’t lie: You have to dig deep to find them. Sometimes people will tell you that you are crazy for not taking a certain path. But, if you are already accustomed to the hard work of journalism or academic research, you can break into a new career.

Who’s the best writer? An academic’s point of view (with poll)

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on April 29, 2010
Tags: , , , ,

I was reading this opinion piece from the Chronicle by Rachel Toor about bad academic writing and it got me wondering about who was the best writer–the academic, the creative writer, or the journalist.  Now there’s no decisive way to judge this and the question seems to be a futile one to ask, at best, or a stupid one, at worst, since it obviously boils down to a matter of opinion and probably subject position.  But seeing as I’m kinda two of the three types of writer I’ve listed, I was thinking about the skills that the different kinds of writing entail.

To try to compare apples to oranges to bananas, I came up with three criteria to consider each kind of writer/each style of writing: the writer’s strengths, the self-identified weaknesses, and how one might make a case for itself/against the others.  I’m only focusing on an academic’s point of view here, since Toor’s essay got me to think about this.  And if someone wants to make a case for the creative writer down the line, please do, because I’m definitely not one!

Strengths: As an academic, I’ve always been invested in the idea that scholarly writing was the superior or at least the most intellectually engaged (read: superior) form, because it allowed for the most complexity and the ability to make connections that neither journalism and creative writing could.  So what if academic writing is dense and opaque more than some of the time?: It just reflected the complexity of the thought it was trying to convey and there really is an art to slowly building an argument that makes academic writing appealing.  Plus, academic writing and research require a command of materials like no other, since the scholar needs not only to have a strong grasp of the creative works it is analyzing, but also other critical work in the field, historical background, and theoretical methodologies.  So I guess that’s why academic essays and manuscripts have to be so long, if they have to incorporate all of those elements.

More below the fold…

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