War of the Words: Creative writing and news journalism

Photo courtesy of fubiz.com

Photo courtesy of fubiz.com

During my first semester as an editor at the Daily Trojan, I remember writing a last-minute feature for the news section in order to fill space. It was the first time I had ever written a feature. After I had finished it, my co-editor Sebastian read it over and asked me, “Jack, does being a creative writing major help you write stories?” My answer was no.

Though it may seem trivial to most, that interaction has always stuck with me because it’s a question that has followed me throughout both my college career as well my career with the Daily Trojan. While many of my journalism major peers discuss their Annenberg professors or Media Center horror stories in the lulls between the chaos of production, I spend my free time (when I can get it) writing short stories for class or reading books with character names I can’t pronounce. Is there a place for this in a world of factual reporting, tight deadlines and AP Style?

I would say so. Though they may seem like opposites on the surface, there isn’t much of a difference between a good short story and a good news story. Both have conflict, tension, action, heroes, villains and more. My classes have simply taught me how to spot it, and I notice it in the real world as well as the fictional realm.

Not only that, but as a news editor, I’ve also learned that there is a lot of room for creativity when it comes to writing headlines, decks and photo captions. Here, the vocabulary and critical thinking skills that my English classes have imbued me with is invaluable toward completing my job night after night.

But as much as my classes have affected how I approach working with the Daily Trojan, working for the Daily Trojan has been just as impactful on my writing. Though I’m no Ernest Hemingway, whose famously terse prose was shaped by his experiences writing for the Kansas City Star, the rigorous rules of AP Style, word count-conscious mindset and hatred of Oxford commas have affected the way I write in ways I never imagined it would when I applied to be a news writer three semesters ago.

This kind of relationship with the Daily Trojan applies to so many others besides me. At this publication, we have business students creating artwork, engineers writing about sports, and so many other people coming from all disciplines to make the paper that ends up on newsstands a reality. So if anyone reading this is thinking about writing for news — or any of our sections — but isn’t sure what they can contribute or what they’re going to get out of it, try it out. Trust me, the results are far greater than a bullet point on a resume.

Jack Walker is a junior majoring in EnglishHe is also the news editor of the Daily Trojan