Friday, January 31, 2014

Ten Reasons You Should Take Journalism Classes, and Lots of Them

Nicole Quigley is the author of Like Moonlight at Low Tide (Blink / Zondervan), winner of the ACFW Carol Award for young adult fiction. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out her writing playlist on her author website. It is sure to make you want to fall in love (or become a surfer) on the Gulf of Mexico. 

For those who love creative writing, the idea of studying journalism may seem like a dose of bad medicine. News writing is fact-based and objective. Fiction writers like to invent their own facts and then take a side! That’s probably why so many aspiring writers prefer to take classes like Screenwriting 101 rather than Media Ethics.

But learning how to find and write news stories may be among the greatest foundational skills a fiction writer can obtain.

After working with the media for more than a dozen years in the field of public relations (and having worked for two newspapers, myself), I have learned an important lesson: reporters make for tremendous storytellers. Many reporters working in newsrooms around the world are among the best writers of our day, even though they may never write a bestselling novel.  

It’s no accident that so many of the most influential fiction writers of the last 100 years all have a background in newswriting. Do the hard work of learning how to be a reporter, and you’ll be following in the footsteps of John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Mitchell, Francine Rivers, and Nora Ephron, just to name a few.

With today’s more highly specialized high school programs and college majors, it may well be possible to obtain a degree in English or Creative Writing and never really learn the technique of newswriting. True journalism is both a skill and art that one masters over the course of a long career, but even learning basic techniques can vastly help your fiction writing.  

Here are ten reasons you should take journalism classes and gain newsroom experience whenever you can:

1. Your writing will get tighter. You’ll write shorter sentences that pack a punch. (When you choose to wax poetic in your fiction work, you’ll have greater control and purpose. Even fiction readers have very little tolerance for fatty writing.)

2. You’ll get more chances at bat. News pieces are shorter, typically not exceeding 800 words. That means you’ll write more stories, and submit them more frequently, for editing. (For writers of any kind, editing = growth.)

3. You’ll learn how to identify and assemble the parts of a news story like pieces in a puzzle, and you’ll learn how to cut the pieces that don’t matter. The essential parts of every news article are “The Five Ws” of who, what, when, where, and why. (In fiction, we use these same pieces, but we call them characters, conflict and plot, setting, and motivation. When you know how to assemble a news story, you’ll be better able to plot your fiction manuscript.)

4. You’ll write under breaking deadlines in real time. If the sheer pressure doesn’t throw you into a caffeine binge coma, you’ll come through it being a faster and more effective writer. (Finding time to complete your fiction manuscript will be among your greatest challenges. Knowing how to use your time efficiently is an asset.)

5. You’ll learn how to truly copyedit your work masterpiece. (Odds are your fiction editor will use many copyediting terms borrowed from the newsroom, and you’ll need to understand them.)

6. You’ll become an expert story pitcher. When you talk to your newsroom editors, they’ll ask, “What’s your story about?” The next question they’ll ask: “Why should I care?” (When you try to land your first agent or book deal, they’ll ask the same thing.) 

7. You’ll interview people and learn how to get great quotes. (Many fiction writers consider writing dialogue one of the most difficult parts of the craft.)  

8. You’ll learn how to research, how to source, and how to distill complex issues into digestible, but still accurate, information. (In fiction writing, you’ll seek experts and information to make your story believable. Masters of this skill include David Baldacci and Tom Clancy.)   

9. You’ll be more employable, which you’ll need before writing that bestseller. (True journalists love reporting and do it well because it is a great passion. But even if you don’t want to be a reporter, understanding the basics of journalism is a practical skill that offers applications for many professions, even if you never step foot in a newsroom. Just ask anyone in marketing, politics, or law.)

10. Journalists like to comfort the afflicted or afflict the comfortable. Journalists write stories that take their readers into new worlds to meet new people. (Fiction writers are no different. Any experience you can obtain in a newsroom will broaden your understanding of the human experience and fuel your imagination for years to come.)  

What do you think? Does newswriting appeal to you? Was your favorite author ever a journalist? How has your experience in journalism classes or working in a newsroom impacted your fiction writing?

We're giving away a copy of Nicole's book Like Moonlight at Low Tide. Enter on the form below. International entries welcome.


  1. Wow! You had me thinking "that job is SO cool!" Nice persuasive writing.
    I actually have thought (a bit) about journalism. I'm also thinking about creative writing and maybe teaching English. :)

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  2. Hmm...I am actually very interested in journalism. Great post!

  3. Thanks for the post! This really helpful because I have been thinking about going into journalism!

  4. Awesome post! I've actually thought a lot about going into the journalism field and plan on majoring in with a minor in Creative Writing or English. However, I had never thought about all the reason you had listed. These are perfect.

  5. Funny, I always thought that I never wanted to go into something like journalism, but now you have me thinking. I'll have to look into it more. ;)

    Thanks for the brain wheel turning post!!

  6. Interesting facts! Thanks for coming and for the give away! :)

  7. Ahh yes!!! This is all so true!! I've been in a journalism class for four years now in my high school, and three of those four years I've had a teacher who's been a pro journalist for newspapers. Writing news is an obviously different style than fiction, but I agree with everything here. It really helps your writing (and your resumé), and you're able to learn how to choose descriptive words that will adequately "punch it" in your WIPs. Amazing post! Thank you!

  8. Cool post! I thought about taking journalism just because I figured it would help me with my writing, or at least get me a job while I'm working on my novels. Alas, I just went through all the courses, and my college I'm attending doesn't offer a single journalism class, and I've already took the highest level English writing class they offer.

  9. Thanks for this post, Nicole! This convinced me to think a little more about journalism classes. ;)
    And thanks for the giveaway! :D

    TW Wright

  10. This is reeeally interesting! I've wondered for a while if journalism would help being a writer (because, on face value, they do seem kind of opposite). But those are fabulous tips! I haven't really considered going into journalism, because I tend to...*ahem*...enjoy making things up. A lot. But this is really informative! Thanks!

  11. Neat! I have actually considered journalism, so that's really interesting!

  12. Thanks for this post! I've considered going into journalism, and this definitely convinced me ;)

  13. Thanks for the post! I'm on the school newspaper this year, and I hadn't thought about this that much but it makes a lot of sense! Especially the last point - just being on the school newspaper I've been amazed at what a variety of people with what interesting stories go to my school. And gaining a new perspective on the human experience is definitely worth the deadlines and the stress :)

  14. I actually love the straight facts/history/ and to-the-point writing, so I agreed with your post completely :)

  15. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, everyone, and I hope it inspires you! The hardest part about my first job at a paper was watching my editor slash and burn through my work. That part was also the most rewarding in the end, and I thanked him in the acknowledgements of my book (Bruce Kestin of Manatee AM / Sarasota Herald Tribune).

  16. I so agree with all this. One of the main reasons I decided to major in Communications was because I wanted to not only learn how to read well (as the English courses for my minor would teach me) but because I wanted to learn how to write well. My journalism, public relations, and marketing classes have been golden.

    Thanks, Nicole!

  17. As an ex-journalist and aspiring author I wholeheartedly agree with everything Nicole so succinctly stated. I find that my reporter experience helped me write convincing dialogue because in almost any situation I was writing about I could link it to a person I had talked with or written about before.

  18. I've originally doubted to go study journalism, but in the end took a different turn and ended up in marketing studies. I still hope to grab a course or two during my seniour year in journalism, even more so now after reading these ten reasons!