Infusing Voice into News Writing—Remaining Objective without being Withdrawn

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I thought there were a lot of important things in this reading, so I’m going to be using more than one quote again.  It’s just too hard to pick one.  First is a quote from George Orwell about using plain language when one writes news articles, “Orwell puts this sentiment more plainly, despite the help of a simile: ‘Good prose is like a window pane.’  The reader notices not the writing, but the world” (299).  This is very similar to a previous comment made about the obituary that Nicholson wrote, “The obit is so easy to read, so direct and simple that it seems devoid of craft” (67).  Obviously if this has been stressed twice, it is extremely important.  News articles should be easy to read and understandable.  It should not draw attention to the words, syntax, etc.  If we as reporters chose to use big words or make things too complicated, we are shifting the attention from the story and onto ourselves.  We, as a journalist, are not meant to be in the article, we are meant to stay outside of it, presenting facts clearly without bias.  A reporter who draws attention to their writing is simply trying to show off.

The next point I want to highlight regards voice, “The voice of most news stories is neutral and authoritative.  Editorials are often written in institutional voices.  Columnists, critics, and sportswriters often develop distinctive voices that readers seem out over their breakfast cereal and interact with in an imagined form of conversation” (301).  I frequently think that because it is a news article which is meant to be unbiased and objective that I cannot put any voice into news writing.  This to me removed some of the appeal of the writing.  However, Clark and Scanlon clarify that the journalist can and should have a voice; he or she just has to be careful what voice that is.  Readers would like to imagine that they are having a conversation with you; they don’t need you to be a withdrawn, omnipotent god laying out the bare facts to them.  Certainly we shouldn’t infuse our opinion into our voice, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have one at all.    

Lastly, I will end this blog, with a quote at the end of the assigned reading which I feel sums a journalists goals up well.  I think this quote is important enough to re-read several times, because it reminds us what journalism is, when it is done well: “For journalists, such radical clarity means controlling the pace of information, translating technical language, knowing when to show and when to tell, creating analogies to help readers understand numbers and, most difficult of all, knowing when to leave things out” (302). 

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Josie Rush said:

Greta, thanks for covering the need for objectivity and voice. I always felt the same way: that journalists had to write as robots would talk; relaying information with absolutely no emotion. That view always turned me away from journalism. But, as you pointed out, it's important for journalists to have voice, it's simply a matter of accepting that the facts being presented are more important than the writer's ego.

I think the journalistic voice may be one of the hardest voices for a writer to cultivate because it's so transparent yet has to still be thought about. Anything you write has a voice, whether you're consciously thinking about it or not. The drier your voice is, the harder it is to understand the information you're conveying. If you're providing information on some very technical concept without any explanation, you're not being the "windowpane" Orwell was talking about. On the other hand, you don't want to word things in a way that completely gives away your opinion on a subject. In some ways, you have to think about voice in journalism more than in other types of writing, because it is so specific. When you're not thinking too hard about what you're writing, your voice can be too sloppy or too full of your own opinion so that the reader won't be able to get a clear picture of what you're writing about. You constantly have to get out your Windex when writing a news story (sorry, I just love the windowpane metaphor).

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