Journalism @ MMU

A while ago I did a journalism unit for the Masters I am nearly ‘over and done’ with. Please give me a tote bag that says Alumni.

The part I enjoyed the most was hearing Graham Foster talking about literary journalism. ‘People do care, but not everyone cares’. Compressing a review of a book into 100 words, keeping it positive, being persistent, knowing the house style of the newspaper. All very practical and reassuring. Copywriting as a career anyone?

‘A literary journalist uses literary or narrative techniques that make the article similar to a novel or a short story.’

In that sense literary journalism would appeal most of all to me of all the types of journalism we discussed. When it came to writing a story for a ‘women’s magazine’, I wanted to introduce a flashback into the narrative but wasn’t allowed to because it has to be told in chronological order. When I write I skip around a lot between past and present, I have a habit of starting poems in the past tense and then after the turning point moving into the present tense. This is part of the fun of writing, moving between voices and playing. I think I could probably benefit from restricting myself more. When I set myself deadlines such as NANO or NAPO I always complete them but then forget to edit the masses of writing I’ve done.

It also seems limiting to consider your audience to the extent that you do in journalism, all you write is geared towards your demographic. This was especially proven by the division of, well you are writing for a women’s magazine so you are going to talk about how emotionally hard your journey was, if you are writing for a men’s magazine you are going to talk about how physically strenuous your journey was.  That just seems like it is contributing towards a general grand narrative of gender stereotypes. In a way, I shouldn’t be judging that because language in general is a biased object, but still. I think for me writing is so much more about negotiating myself and the world, so it was novel and quite shocking for me to see writing used in a context of this is something you are selling.

It was refreshing to see writing from this angle, and I enjoyed the unit and there are definitely things from it I should take forward and practise in my own writing, I can see why famous writers come from journalism and it’s a great profession. But do I want to end up like George Orwell, writing an essay titled A Nice Cup of Tea?

Extract from A Nice Cup of Tea: (btw I take two sugars, I am one of the misguided)

  • Lastly, tea—unless one is drinking it in the Russian style—should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connection with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become.

I’ll end with another George Orwell quote:

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

Class, discuss.

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2 thoughts on “Journalism @ MMU

  1. An interesting post, Becca, and some excellent observations.

    There seems to be a vicious circle here. Write what publishers think their readers want – or rather, what they think will sell – and you perpetuate stereotypes and pre-conceptions; write what *you* want, and it becomes harder, even impossible, to sell your work. On a writing course some years ago, I remember being gob-smacked at how prescriptive (restrictive!) some commercial publishers are (see My Weekly’s guidelines too see what I mean) – yet some writers make a decent income from such formulaic writing.

    I guess similar is true even for national newspapers – each has their own ‘house style’ and political leanings, so journalists either have to adapt or otherwise compromise their integrity, otherwise they won’t eat.

    How wonderful it would be if My Weekly were to publish incisive, feminist writing, but realistically it ain’t going to happen. I don’t know what the answer is, but good luck in trying!

    • Thanks Martin! Thanks for such an insightful comment and wouldn’t that be ace if Heat started reporting on Malala Yousafzai and actually engaging with pertinent issues…the journalism unit definitely got me thinking on what writing means.

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