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How Important Are Writing Skills for Modern Journalists?

July 7, 2011

Gary Moskowitz writes an interesting article in the Mediashift blog that poses several questions about the lack of importance placed on writing skills in today’s journalism and how Journalism itself has become more and more technologically driven.

Moskowitz describes his love for writing as what drew him and then later his students to journalism. Unfortunately, he writes, “I often feel like telling my students who really love to write: “Sorry, you’ve come to the wrong place. The creative writing lecture is down the hall.”

The article does an excellent job of summing up the confusion about journalism in 2011—which has also strengthened my attitude about writing skills. I believe if we want student journalists to have their own “voice” and to craft their words, we have to provide space in our courses for them to learn how.

Unfortunately, Moskowitz notes, “Writing is low on the priority list in our online journalism classes, not because I want it to be, but because we’ve got limited time to focus on other things. During two-hour classes, students create individual or group websites and learn how to operate online content management systems. They produce audio slideshows, podcasts and videos. They join online communities or create their own. They gather raw data and use it to create online visualizations. They tinker with HTML and CSS, and dissect their website’s analytics, among many other tasks.”

While I agree that knowing how to work with multiple technologies is incredibly important to today’s journalism, it shouldn’t be at the cost of students’ writing skills.

Moskowitz raises the question of writing skills—and the emphasis on writing well, but not providing students with the tools–when he notes,

“We’re constantly telling them to write snappier, say what they need to with as few words as possible, and link to the rest, so how can they truly develop a unique writing voice in our classes? They need to do that on their own time or in another class, which inevitably causes some of them to then draw a line between “real” journalism and “web” journalism.”

It has been clear for some time now that journalism and J-schools are at a turning point in terms of what and how to cover news and what and how to teach students about their chosen field. Still, I believe the acquisition of web skills should not occur at the expense of writing skills, which I would argue should be the bedrock that Journalism is built on. Click for the entire article.

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