Moviegoers were graced with a glimpse into the world of journalism in April with the premiere of two top-notch press-centric films; State of Play and The Soloist respectively. The investigative reporting and journalistic flair of newspaper writers drive the two films. State of Play and Soloist are just the latest in a long line of movies centered on the cunning investigations pivotal to the newspaper world. Remember All the Kings Men? Citizen Kane? Or The Pelican Brief? While the most recent cinematic journalism adventures are far from the first to feature press writers, might they be two of the last?
As newspapers continue to search for new business models, the “Watchdog” function is changing or disappearing. New forms of social media have accelerated the public’s demand for news. Whereas reporters once had weeks to cover an in-depth story, the editorial calendar has shrunk significantly. Instead of investing in investigations guarding public interests, newspapers are forced by high print and distribution costs to watch over their pocketbooks.
Some of the best movies of this generation are marked by newspapers in some way. If newspapers continue the current downward spiral, it will definitely be reflected at theaters…but how much remains to be seen. Five years from now, Denzel Washington may be on stage accepting an Oscar for portraying a Twitter-er. Or M. Knight Shyamalan might be directing a horror flick about Facebook. Enjoy the likes of The Soloist and State of Play while you can. Journalism has been celebrated in our society for many, many years, but the changes on the printed page are usually reflected on the reel.
Wild west web 2.0: the value of professional writing in a lawless frontier of widely published amateurs
What happens to language when people are both encouraged to write and encouraged not to write properly? How can we maintain some sense of law and order on the frontier of new media? What is the role of the professional writer – someone who knows how to clearly, concisely and accurately communicate—in a system that doesn’t seem to uphold any standards? The mass abbreviation and simplification of our language, coupled with the rise of user-generated content in even the most legitimate of media, has created a free-for-all that may cause us to wonder whether precision and clarity matter anymore. They do, but first, let’s look at our circumstances.
The “Evolution” of Language
Language is a necessarily dynamic component of culture. In 2006 alone, Miriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary added nearly 100 new words. Some of these, like “gastric bypass” and “spyware,” reflect technological innovations. Others, like “drama queen,” “sandwich generation” and “Google” (as a proper noun and a verb) illustrate cultural change. These lexical additions positively impact our ability to communicate.
At the same time, our cultural preoccupation with ease of use is causing a widespread over-simplification of language, grammar and syntax. A recent Cingular Wireless commercial, entertaining as it is, shows us what can happen when we apply the “œquick and easy” philosophy behind microwaves and Swiffer Wet Jets to our key communication mechanism. We may not have regressed to “idk” (I don’t know) or “np” (no problem) yet, but how many times do we begin inter-office e-mails with “fyi,” and how many of us really know where the comma or apostrophe goes?
The “Evolution” of Media
In the Web 2.0 world, user-generated content is king. Last month, MySpace was at the top of the 20 most popular website in the U.S. as ranked by Hitwise, an online competitive intelligence research firm. Facebook, YouTube and ebay also appeared on the list, competing only with Google searches and various e-mail clients.
Many national and local newspaper sites are taking note of this trend and offering a comment feature so readers can interact with their news. Just glance at the New York Times website, with its 20-some blogs, to find why many of us believe our opinions “fit to print.”
But good writing is not a historical artifact. Despite these linguistic and cultural shifts, many of us still care about precision of language. Some get it wrong, but wrong is not the new right. We know this intuitively because many of us are still offended at the sight of “your” instead of “you’re” or “its” instead of “it’s.” Monstertrak.com’s article “Avoid the Top 10 Resume Mistakes” puts typos and grammatical errors at the very top. Why? Because “employers will read between the lines and draw not-so-flattering conclusions about you…” We draw those conclusions because we know how important it is to make a good impression. Language is a large part of how we represent our businesses and ourselves. It’s our vehicle for communicating who we are and what we have to offer.
And how should we do that?
There are a number of excellent resources that offer easy-to-understand tips and tricks of the trade. Three of my favorites are Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss, The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and On Writing Well by William Zinsser. Even if you don’t read grammar- or language-specific books, reading regularly is a great way to familiarize yourself with proper grammar and sentence structure; making you a better writer in the long run.
Write and Rewrite
The old adage is true; the essence of writing really is rewriting. Focus on content when you first sit down to write. After you’ve included all the necessary information, take a break and return with an eye toward style and accuracy. Have a colleague or other trusted person look over your work, and don’t be discouraged if you receive constructive criticism.
Consult an Expert
Despite our best efforts, many of us recognize we’re not experts. We may be successful entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, etc., but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are effective communicators. Realize there are professional writers out there and make these people part of your brain trust. Let them help you reach potential customers with a well-crafted message that adequately communicates who you are and what you do.
Posted by Nicole