Chapter 2: Media Writing–Conventions, Culture, and Style

9 Media writing skills and characteristics

Writing for the media can be difficult, especially for beginners. Practicing the following skills will help you improve the quality of your work.

Knowledge of AP Style

Most media outlets use AP style—the style established and constantly updated by the Associated Press—as the foundation for basic news and media writing. AP style provides consistency in writing across media outlets and publications. You should purchase the latest edition of the AP stylebook and familiarize yourself with it because you will be required to write in this manner for messages intended for media outlets. The stylebook is available both online and in hard copy. In general, AP style has evolved to ensure that media writing is accurate, impartial, and clear to the audience.

Knowledge of grammar and punctuation

Audiences hold media and strategic communication professionals to a high standard when it comes to knowledge of grammar and punctuation. To assist you in learning how to write for the media, here are a few basic grammar and punctuation rules:

  • Use simple sentences that follow the subject, verb, object order (example: Maria attended the press conference).
  • Use active, not passive voice. Active voice helps with clarity and concise writing. (Passive voice: The press release was completed by Brian. Active voice: Brian completed the press release.)
  • Understand word choice and meaning:
    • affect, effect
    • its, it’s
    • they’re, their, there
    • accept, except
  • Be aware of comma uses:
    • Set off modifiers (words or clauses that provide further description)
      The publicist, who works for Ogilvy, arrived late to the meeting.
    • Separate an introductory phrase or word
      While studying, I listened to music.
    • Before a conjunction
      I want to go, but I have to study.
    • When writing a series of items (three or more)
      She bought shoes, food, and a movie.

Watch the video below of Jenny Patton, senior lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University. She discusses common grammatical errors and tips to improve your writing.


Grammatical Errors with Jenny Patton

 

Ability to simplify information

As a media or strategic communication professional, you will need to synthesize and make sense of a great deal of information for your audience, often under a strict deadline. This takes strategy, good storytelling skills, and the ability to focus on the essential information. Audiences respond better to information that is presented in a logical order that supports the overall narrative.

Focus on accuracy and details

When you write for the media, you represent not only your personal brand but also the broader organization for which you’re producing content. Precise writing and transparency give newsrooms credibility; misinformation can severely diminish the integrity of the media outlet. Selecting appropriate sources and verifying information obtained from those sources, referred to as fact checking, can help minimize inaccurate writing. Accuracy also means using proper grammar and language appropriate to the audience.

Ensuring accurate reporting and writing can be challenging. Fast-paced media environments make it tremendously difficult to thoroughly gather information and fact check it in a short amount of time. For example, in 2013, during coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, reports of five additional explosives found in the area were later found to be false. In addition, the New York Post ran a photo on its front page of two men that it alleged were the suspects that federal investigators were searching for at the time. The men were innocent, and while the Post apologized for the error, the men later sued the media outlet for defamation (Wemple, 2014).

Outstanding attention to detail is necessary in order to catch errors in content, grammar, and punctuation. Taking the time to slowly review your message will save you from the consequences of misinformation or careless errors. Similarly, a big part of the writing process involves editing and revising your work, either by you or by an editor. Few writers can produce material that cannot be improved or does not need to be altered for style or content reasons.

Objectivity

Objectivity is one of the principles of journalism, according to the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (2014). Media writing should provide well-rounded analyses and stories that include all major perspectives. If you present one organization’s point of view, you should also quote one of its competitors or discuss the contrarian perspective for balance. With the exception of opinion columns and blogs, writers should not express their personal opinions on a story or event. Instead, they should write objectively, presenting the facts and leaving it up the audience to decide how to feel about the information.

Some professionals believe that objective journalism does not exist because humans are innately biased creatures (Hare, 2013). It is true that a writer’s biases can become apparent in his or her writing. However, media professionals should aspire to absolute objectivity. To achieve this, it helps to have a third party read your article or message to minimize biased writing.

Clarity

Media professionals generally write for a large, mainstream audience. Clear and concise writing makes it easier for a wide variety of groups to understand the core message. Complex sentence structures and jargon that you might find in traditional academic writing are not appropriate for diverse populations. Use simple sentences to get your point across.

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