Journalism: Do We Need to Stay Plugged Into News?

Courtesy of Flickr's Ian Burt; Original art by Roy Litchenstein
Courtesy of Flickr’s Ian Burt; Original art by Roy Litchenstein

Absolutely. But the gossip, the jargon, the pessimism—wouldn’t we rather turn off CNN or Fox News and flip to our favorite book or TV show? Certainly the drama of news may bore us, but in the realm of journalism and writing, keeping track of the news is vital for a writer’s life—actually for anyone’s life.

The fact is this: Our world is becoming more global than ever. People who speak of Ebola or ISIS are already informed on the world’s hottest topics, and those ignorant of these issues are sometimes looked down upon, even though the “ignorance of bliss” seems preferable to the hype of tragedy-driven news.

But I caution you: Don’t worry about the news. Let it inform you of what’s happening. Even if you don’t travel or see people from abroad, let it remind you of your blessings where you live. Sometimes global issues will help you when you meet people. You can relate to their issues and especially if you travel—or if you write journalism—you feel that you are connected with the world.

Perhaps you may pray for the world. Perhaps you are inspired by news for your stories. Perhaps you prefer to stay connected so that you don’t feel isolated. Whatever your reasons, stick to your convictions and never let any gossip filter your thoughts. News and media certainly have habits of sensationalizing topics such as disease, tragedies, murders, and trials, yet these are strategies that newscasters employ to create interaction among readers.

Let no one scare you into thinking that you’ll catch the next epidemic or that a high school’s shooting is going to happen in your hometown. But whatever you do, be informed and know what is going on and why things are happening the way they do.

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My Personal Literary Theories: Why I Do What I Do

Every week, my hall or the adjacent hall will post inspirational verses for the girls in the dorms.
Every week, my hall or the adjacent hall will post inspirational verses for the girls in the dorms.

When I first began my college course in Writing Theory and Ethics, I had little to no intention of writing down my own theories of writing outside the class, thinking that theories were only set aside for academic exercises or dissertations. But now that I have taken this class, I see that I’ve been writing down my theories ever since I began my novels in high school. It was just a matter of recognizing my own patterns of thought and seeing those patterns play out in my fiction.

When I took classes in literary theory and creative writing, I began my own diary in which I revisited events of the day and sometimes jotted down clips of creative writing that I didn’t use for my assignments. As I matured in my writing and pursued my love of novels, I began to see patterns in how I thought and how I formed my stories. Sometimes those stories followed a similar motif, such as how I view a hopeful versus a happy ending and how I insinuate my faith into my writing so that my Christianity appears normal rather than contrived.

As I added my minor in journalism, I began to condense my diction and form my style with more action-packed syntax. Now I see the world through a journalist’s eyes, replacing my prepositional phrases with clear-cut nouns and verbs that grab my readers’ attention.

But my love is novels, and though the economy has shifted in favor of technical and journalistic writing, I have coupled my love for novels with my skill in journalism and have found social media to bridge the gap between classical literature and contemporary trends. It is actually in the ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter that I have begun establishing my presence as a writer, and as I tweet, text, and post “likes” on my statuses, I am beginning to see that the trends in our culture are helping me build a happy podium on which I can establish my career as a writer.

Throughout the journey of developing my personal literary theories, I have delved into greater strides of what I truly believe to be my own theories on faith, fiction, and journalism. In all my writing, I’ve noticed that I carry a thread of hope in my work. Whether it’s in newspaper articles, novels, or academic prose, I’m always writing with the clear vision that my readers will glean hope from my writing, and it’s because of my love for and belief in God that I’m able to portray hope in my writing and see this whole world as a reflection of His glory and workmanship.

Getting a Ph.D.–Is It Really Worth It?

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

If you’re thinking of a Ph.D., just stop for a moment and say, “Is this really worth it?” Sure, the poverty-level income is appealing, but what really drives a student to get a Ph.D.? It’s certainly not the fame, fortune or even the self-esteem. No, it’s something steadier and more invigorating. Something that drives the passion of nerdy academics to endure the coffee-binging, midnight-oil-burning comas that define the process of getting a Ph.D.

There’s really only two reasons to get a Ph.D.: to have fun or to teach. Some find the rigor of academics invigorating and appealing. “I enjoy academics,” said Dr. Boyd Seevers, a professor of Old Testament studies at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, “because that’s the way I’m wired.” For example, in the research for his dissertation in Old Testament warfare, he found potentially useful life skills such as how to win a swordfight by being left-handed.

Others would rather die in a swamp than live through the grueling, bloody and sweaty purgatory they’ve heard their colleagues endure. Doctoral supervisors see a number of their students drop out of their doctoral programs, and by the time the supervisors are piling up their students’ corpses, very few students actually finish their dissertations. It took Seevers four years to complete his while living three days a week in his library’s basement. Out of 22 students, he was one of two who finished in four years. “And that was the shorter end,” he said.

Even if students aren’t interested in getting a Ph.D., some are required to get a Ph.D. in order to teach. This is especially true for the liberal arts professors, who earn far less and work much more than the humanities, sciences or professional writing professors.

Others get a Ph.D. just for the heck of it, even if they don’t need it to teach. Dr. Doug Trouten, professor of journalism at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, said that after he had become a professor, “the obvious thing to do was to pursue the one thing more useless than the M.A. in journalism I already had—namely, a Ph.D. in journalism.”

The only perks to getting a Ph.D. are having a special plaque with “Ph.D.” beside your name (assuming you live in an office) and knowing more than you actually need to know. Trouten said, “As you move along in higher education, you wind up knowing more and more about less and less until, as they say, you know everything about nothing. That’s me.”

But for some like Seevers, there’s real pleasure in getting a Ph.D. despite the insomnia and lack of a social life. So if you’re thinking of getting a Ph.D. and you’re willing to be a hermit, just remember that you might have to live in your library’s basement for several years.

Technology & Writing: Does Social Media Erode Our Language?

The corridor of uncertainty, by Jemimus
Photo Courtesy of Jemimus

I have only recently entered the realm of social media, and while I have been raised on English literature and lengthy novels, I have found a new love in the language of journalism and social media. My diction is now vitalized with action-packed verbs, and I enunciate exactly what I mean in 600 words or fewer, whereas before I exhausted my sentences with multi-syllabic words. And though my diction is much simpler, I have not sloughed in my writing, but rather have gained an appreciation for a condensed version of the English language.

But I am miffed whenever I hear discussions about social media eroding our language, especially through Facebook and texting. One of the main critics of this discussion is Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, who says that we now read newspapers on a fourth-grade level. When once we knew about 20,000 words in our English language, perhaps from the peak of our college days, we now use only 2,000 a week, even though a million other words in our language lie waiting for us to use them. As I compare her statistics to the length of our sentences and the precision of our vocabulary, particularly in journalism, I agree that she’s right. And yet I do not find social media to impede our use of the English language. If anything, it has taught me to pack a punch in my words.

From when I first arrived at my university, I’ve been taught to sharpen my diction and tighten my syntax. In the student newspaper, my paragraphs shortened from five sentences down to three or one. It was the length that mattered, my professors said. Anything longer would lose my readers. As I became Feature Editor, I truly learned the importance of brevity. In fact, as I was writing headlines and photo captions, I learned it’s not the body of the article that people first read, but rather the headlines and captions that give readers the gist of what they want to know.

As I’ve shortened my own sentences, my academic diction has been replaced by what McEntyre might call a fourth-grade level of vocabulary, yet I have by no means degraded my journalistic writing, only altered my prose to reflect our natural rhythm of speech. I’ve noticed that in daily conversation, we often never speak more than ten or fifteen syllables in one breath, and only in our academic writing do we extend our breaths to about twenty syllables with words such as demonstrative, pedagogical, and constructionism.

These are the words most readers would dismiss, and although I have no problem with shortening my words, I remember McEntyre’s critique and see how we have unwittingly altered our diction to match the increased pace of our lives. As we’ve moved from walking on lanes to speeding on highways, we’re constantly being distracted by various forms of social media. Matt Richtel, a New York Times journalist, says that in general, we’ve cut our attention span because of our addiction to a chemical called dopamine, which emits adrenaline every time we receive a text message or other digital notification (“Digital Overload”). It’s like we’re drawn to the excitement of getting a message—like opening a present, something just for us—that propels us to check our phones or log onto Facebook nearly every hour every day.

Even though critics denounce this technology for weakening our prose, I see that it’s a matter of choice and discipline whether we choose to browse Facebook or pore through a book. Our digitalized culture is not necessarily a bad thing, but merely a reflection of our times. It’s a matter of habit regarding what we choose to write and how we choose to write it. We ourselves cause the laziness when texting, not the technology. We only excuse ourselves by saying that Twitter restricts our messages to 140 characters or fewer. But to get back on track to reading longer prose, we can train ourselves, if we choose, to spend a few hours on books or read one novel after the next. I, for one, choose to continue on social media, because I see here the prospects of establishing my presence as a writer and making myself a more vivid writer.

Lessons from McEntyre–How a Journalist Respects Authority

Photo Courtesy of Jason
Photo Courtesy of Jason

Within her book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn McEntyre emphasizes the importance of preserving truth in our words, listing the vital questions that beg us to consider our role in this quest for truth. The question that stood out to me was, “How do I accredit or challenge authority?”

As a journalist, I am told to write objectively. I must never show my own opinions, except when I write for Opinion articles, and I can only introduce opinions when they belong to my interviewees, such as, “He said,” or “She said.” In this manner, I accredit authority by giving respect due to whom it is due, but I dare not challenge authority at this stage in my career, because I do not wish to lose rapport with the people I report or with my future employers.

When McEntyre says, “challenge authority,” I do not think she would condone blatant criticism but rather careful strategies to convey truth in our words. I can be safe by saying, “A murder occurred at 11:00 p.m. on Baker Street,” and adding, “Police say resident was found guilty,” without ever showing my own opinion, because in this way, I am accrediting authority to the police rather than touting my own.