Back in the day, journalism was about being a wordsmith. And, although those involved in community, social media and SEO don’t require the ability to put together flowing and eloquent prose, I still think journalists need to be able to write punchy copy when required.I say this because if you can’t, it puts you and your team at a disadvantage.
For example, in my role as content co-ordinator at the Guardian (not a writing job at all) I have to write copy for online debates and I might even be thrown a story. If I can’t write that up quickly and efficiently, the subbing process becomes lengthy and you become a burden. With self-publishing increasing (without having gone through a sub), that’s the last thing you want.
Being a good wordsmith can take the pressure off on a deadline, but it is only one of many skills needed as a journalist. You need to know your ‘it’s’ from your ‘its’, but your work is going to go through a sub, a desk editor, back to sub, maybe a senior sub and possibly a senior editor. The mistakes will get caught and ironed out by the person who’s job it is to do so.
The other aspects of the article are more important – are your facts correct and double sourced, have you backed up key points with quotes? Are the names and dates right – these are your responsibility as the person closest to the story – the kinks will work themselves out through the process.
A good journalist is a terrier, someone who digs into a good story and doesn’t let go – if you can’t write in rhyming couplets using iambic pentameter your editor isn’t going to notice if you are delivering scoops and getting exclusives. I would spend any spare time building contacts, understanding your beat inside out and on producing accurate copy quickly, the flair can follow.
What do you think? Do journalists need great writing skills – or will the process copy goes through take care of the mistakes?
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look