OpEd: The Problem with Modern Journalism

Journaling - Writing Pen - CalligraphyRant o’ the day: A friend on Facebook rightly complained about the horrible writing “standards” in the local paper, which is read by tens of thousand of people every day.

The problem with journalism is the rise of the internet.  In days gone by, a paragraph had to be at least 2 sentences — usually 4 to 5 sentences, based on the standards of writing a paragraph with a topic statement, 2 to 3 supporting statements, and a conclusion statement that leads to the next paragraph — and vary from complex sentences to compound-complex sentences.  Also, there used to be a style flow of putting background info up front to inform the reader in the initial paragraphs and lead into the jist of the story in the subsequent paragraphs.  Nowadays, you’re lucky to see a paragraph that has more than 2 sentences, both of which usually defy the laws of grammar.

When I was a writer for an online site for The New York Times, I was told to put the point of the article into the first or second paragraph because most people don’t read past that; and they almost never click through to a second page (online).  The NYT sold that site to another major company, and as part of the writing standard, the writers were told we could write an article that went onto a second page, but we would not get paid for that page view.

(Note:  Back in the day, stories also required a minimum of 2 sources.  Now, you just need 2 juicy rumors on which to base your story.)

Additionally, most “journos” are glorified bloggers with little to no previous writing experience.  Worse yet, even the big online rags don’t pay their writers, so it’s not like they’re paying for quality writing.  I love blogging, which is more of a personal outlet for most people, but it can also consist of truly great writing depending on the site.  However, from the perspective of an industry standard, journalism should not adopt the informal mannerisms of blogging and the internet — not if journalism is to hold any credibility in the unbiased reporting of information and maintain a standard of exemplary writing.

While the faults of modern journalism are found mostly online, those trends have seeped into the print journo world.  And throw in some of the stupid rules imposed by the Associated Press’ writing standard, it’s no wonder journalism has lost credibility.  (Who made the AP the god of writing anyway?!).  Compound this with the atrocity that is 24/7 cable “news” (i.e., gross sensationalism for ratings), most of modern journalism would make Pulitzer roll over in his grave.

The rules for journalism have changed and not for the better.




1 Comment

  1. Thanks Trish! And I completely agree; the still developing internet has a major impact on how we communicate. Deeper still, a lot of that language is influenced by the simple fact text messaging limitations have launched a plethora of grammatically horrid communication shortcuts. I am guilty of using them myself, but there is a time and place for everything. Journalism should not be the realm for lackadaisical standards.