The Nuts and Bolts of Journalism
Posted on July 9th, 2016

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando Courtesy Ceylon Today


The style of writing has to be candid, factual and forthright, but it should not be regarded as threatening or hostile. As with most public assignments, it is best to choose the type of words by getting a clear idea on the following aspects: (i) what is the publication the writer aims at? (ii) On what subject the writer wants to concentrate on (iii) the way or the style the article to be written and (iv) when to despatch or post what is written for publication?

Unless a writer is established and his / her byline is familiar with the readership, it would be best to decide on the type of publication one needs writing to. The budding journalists who have not got their byline familiarized with the public are better advised to restrict in selecting publications, which are already well-known- whether it is an evening newspaper, monthly or a quarterly magazine. Care has to be taken to select a journal, which is not very likely to attract the work of established journalists. In other words, it would be best to concentrate on weekly and evening newspapers, magazines or a tabloid that circulates in the writer’s own area, town or country. If one is keen on a specialized subject then it would be best to do some research and be armed with facts.

The rates paid to journalists by many of the tabloid newspapers and magazines are not very attractive. For example, Sri Lankan news industry as a whole cannot afford to retain overseas correspondents in a manner other countries deploy their foreign correspondents. Also, because of the fact that most of the international news is covered by wire services and, of course, at present having access to the Internet that has become a gateway to all the foreign journals and newspapers published overseas. In short, a Sri Lankan journalist based overseas and volunteering to write to any national newspaper or a magazine, cannot expect to make journalism his / her livelihood.

Annual social events

Apart from that editors will expect out of overseas-based correspondents, only the news covering the Sri Lankan community and their affairs. During the LTTE war of course there were so much to write about on protests, marches or seminars, but since the end of the war, one could only concentrate on Buddhist temple events mainly, and annual social events linked to Sri Lankans, such as the festival of cricket in the UK, that brings Sri Lankans from all over to one venue on a single day.

This means a beginner or ‘not-so-established’ a journalist needs to set his /her prospects fairly low at first. Naturally every journalist cherishes dreams of seeing his / her byline in recognized and reputable national publications but one word of relevance would be to be patient and not to throw one’s dreams away, but to put them in ‘moth-balls’ for a while.

The enthusiastic journalist’s hobby should be to study and analyse numerous articles and editorial content to try and grasp topics, the way of handling a story, its size or the word content, and the general presentation. Through experience, he will grasp how the subject matter should be presented to the readership and become observant and learn whether the style of a written article is garrulous and slightly slang; or whether the writing is biased towards a particular age group or even the language used is high flown that it goes over the heads of the mainstream of the average reader.

National newspapers

Seemingly, the budding journalist will begin to adopt, his individual style, and the flavour of the publication he is dealing with. The journalist will soon familiarize with the subject matter that appeals to the readership, which ultimately help him to know the type of material to follow. National newspapers mainly focus on domestic issues of day-to-day importance while giving prominence to politics.

When a professional journalist writes an article, it is fully understood by the readers at the first reading. A cub journalist, therefore, needs to identify the type of readership as much as the management policy of the newspaper or magazine before attempting to decide on a particular topic to make it appealing to the readership.

Articles generally fall into two groups (i) the straightforward and factual expose and (ii) writer’s expression on personal thoughts, feelings, comments, speculations, reflections, advice and opinions. The scope for a cub journalist in the latter field is constricting, but it does exist. Those who are either experienced and talented journalists, or those who have earned a ‘name’ write most of the ‘opinion’ columns. Everyone in the journalistic field is ambitious to tackle articles of the latter type but clearly a beginner cannot expect to compete with journalists who have already made their bylines a household name. Therefore, the cleverest approach for the budding journalist would be via the straightforward and factual commentary. The market for this is literally bottomless. There is no newspaper or magazine anywhere in the world, which will not accept an article of interest to its particular group of readers.

Factual articles

Once a journalist proves his mettle or ‘earn a name’ with an editor, by having several factual articles accepted, then the editor may consider affording an opportunity to write in a more personal vein. Certainly the fact that the editor seemingly having come to know a writer and has used some of the writer’s work in the past means that anything now submitted will receive sympathetic consideration.

It would be judicious, however, to stress that all journalists, whose educational, professional or other qualifications, fairly described as ‘experts or authorities’ in their particular fields, may be lucky to be able to break straightaway into the field of the ‘opinion ‘columns. Editors, by nature, are ‘wary birds’ as such they are not in the habit of allowing any Tom, Dick, Harry or Harriet to use their columns for the expression of opinions except of course, giving access to the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section.

Politics and humour

At the commencement of a journalistic career, it would be prudent to avoid a blistering attack on the inefficiency, incompetence, arrogance or lackadaisical attitudes of a government department or a politician or even to write a sarcastic piece on men coming to offices in bedroom slippers, or females who drape a six meter piece of cloth, as an iconic sari, to their body with matching ‘see-through’ tops and exposing their midriff, the navel and the belly button.

Satirical ideas rarely make saleable articles. Most people would like to think they have a strong sense of humour. One will be able to produce such writing just as good as a normal feature article only once established as a humorist. However, one has to be mindful of the traps that humorous articles can claim more victims among would-be journalists than any other does.

Humour is a tricky business, shrouded in mystery. It is a very individual matter. “One man’s meat is another man’s poison“. There are no rules for writing humorous articles, or at best, there is just one. The journalist’s article must amuse the editor to whom he submits it, or at least give an awry grin. If it does, then he may decide that it might also entertain his readers.

[email protected]

The writer holds a PhD

in Philosophy of Media Communication

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