Writers: Bilingual in one language

posted by: Rylee Maxwell

photo by Rylee Maxwell

photo by Rylee Maxwell

I’ve always found this topic intriguing but have been considering it more recently while working on the Midwest Living project alongside multiple creative writing essays for the English department. Journalists and writers are two very different beings. To do both, one must be, in a sense, bilingual.

Sure, both species of writers work (and play) with words. Both must consider grammar and spelling, monitor subjects and ideas, and have mentors and coaches. But the similarities end there. 

While journalism is, in itself, a form of creative writing, students wouldn’t dream of using the same style for an English class and a journalism course. Journalists learn to be concise, simple, and factual, while creative writers learn to be imaginative and detailed. Journalists pore over AP style books and recent news and writers scour thesauruses and peruse fantasy.

Even within their field, journalists have to be able to sculpt their writing style, depending on their target audience. Editing this piece for Midwest Living is a completely different process than editing the same piece for, say, Sports Illustrated.

For those who also do English writing, which style comes easier? Does your mind automatically switch into the mode you need it to be in, or do you ever find yourself writing flowery journalism and concise prose? Is your favorite mentor for writing the same for both disciplines?

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6 responses to “Writers: Bilingual in one language

  1. In high school I was an editor for the yearbook and I absolutely loved it. When it came to looking for what to major in in college I picked magazines because I figured it was along the same lines- WRONG. I feel as though every platform of reporting/ writing is different. Walking into Seventeen magazine’s offices would be a culture shock if you had been working for the Des Moines Register.
    Depending on what you are writing about and who your audience steers which pencil you put down on paper.
    I think it is important for writers to find what style they excel in and stick with that, putting on different hats all the time could get really confusing. At the same time writers should know how to write in different styles, tones and voices.

  2. I’m actually a journalism and English double major so this is a balance that I’ve been working with my entire college career so far. I agree with Raquel, that there’s always a bit of a rough transition between different kinds of writing. However, I’ve noticed that being a good writer is a skill that transcends format. The best writers can adapt their style and voice to fit the whatever content and structure is required.

    Personally, the more I’ve transitioned between literary study and journalism, the easier it’s gotten for me to switch between the two formats. Early on, I definitely found that my journalism tended to be a little too wordy because of my literature background. Now, I hope I’m learning to bring a little more clarity and conciseness to my English studies writing and a little more creativity and artistry to my journalism work. My mentors have helped me work on these skills, but they’ve remained fairly distinct within their fields. Rylee, you’re right in that journalism and English are very different, so I consult very different people for each discipline. Overall, I hope to work in both kinds of writing and study throughout my life. Although I will always love literature study and criticism, I think I’m learning to write like a journalist as well and can use skills from both areas in my writing.

  3. I find this very interesting. Next semester I begin my journey as an English and Journalism double major, and this post has me a bit nervous — and excited. I think that it’s interesting, because both deal with words so many people think the two fields are very similar. I can see where people get this idea. However, I feel like that is saying a house painter is similar to a pointillism artist because both use paint and brushes. Clearly these are two very different techniques.

    I haven’t started many English classes yet. I’m not sure which I prefer or how I will go between the two, but I’m excited for the challenge.

  4. I love this post, it puts into perspective something journalist and writers often over look. We use the terms interchangeably as if they are synonymies of each other when in actuality they are two very different disciplines. In high school I enjoyed creative writing and creating flowery AP english papers. But once I came to Drake my structure and style of writing changed. But as Abby said, “The best writers can adapt their style and voice to fit the whatever content and structure is required.”

    In J59 I had to find the balance between essay style writing and reporting. And still when I’m writing features that line is blurred. One day I hope to be able to write on both sides of the line. To be known as both a quality writer and a quality journalist.

  5. I’m also a journalism and English double major. It can definitely be a struggle sometimes to transition from one kind of writing to another. I’ve had English professors tell me that I need to remember to not be like a journalist in my English writing because I do cross the two sometimes without even knowing it. I think I’ve become a lot better at keeping my two styles separate depending on what I’m writing. I will say though, that I’m so glad I decided to be a double major because I think English essay and prose style of writing, although very different from journalistic writing, has actually helped me be a better magazine writer. Magazine writing is often more feature style instead of hard news writing and being able to write prose and text analysis I feel like I have become better at figuring out how a magazine piece should go. It’s also nice to have another style of writing that you switch over to. If I had to write English papers for the rest of my life I would go insane (I write a lot of them now), so I’m glad I can get a break from academic writing and write in another style that I love.

  6. I think that writing English papers is much easier than journalism pieces. I think tailoring my writing to a newspaper audience is one of the most difficult aspects of journalistic writing. My mind does not automatically switch between different writing styles. However, I think it is hard to switch from news writing to magazine feature writing than from journalistic writing to essay writing. The subtleties in journalistic writing catch me off guard. My mentor for English writing was a teacher in high school and I think Tapscott taught me a lot about journalistic writing.

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