Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Writer" vs. "Journalist"

Previously on Stacking the Deck ...

David went of on yet another rant, this time arguing the point that a journalist should be defined as such based on the merits and value of his work, and not the subject of the writing.  In short, he said that an entertainment journalist is, in fact, still a journalist.  Addressing critics who prefer that the term "writer" be used instead of "journalist", David claimed that that the two terms were related, but distinct ... and that he planned a future blog post to elaborate.

And now, that time has come ... (cue opening title sequence)

Alright, so I know it's actually only been a few days since I wrote that last blog post talking about the work I do in my role as a journalist, and why I use that term instead of calling myself a "pop culture writer".  I touched on the fact that I consider myself both a writer AND a journalist.  What I wanted to point out is that the two are not actually the same thing.  I thought about waiting a bit, posting some extra pieces here, and then eventually coming back to the subject to illustrate my point.  But after writing that last entry, I just couldn't shake that desire to go back to the subject and get it off my chest.

When it comes to the work that I do, I always picture myself playing two roles, one as a writer and the other as a journalist.  When I'm working in my role as a journalist, I'm a lot more business oriented ... more of a left brained activity.  Sure, I try to enjoy my work and keep it interesting, but at the end of the day it's still business.  Even covering the industry that I do, I'm digging in and looking at details, asking questions, and doing the best I can to inform my audience.  Whether it's a review of the latest summer blockbuster or an interview with a comic creator or a report on some new video game study, I try to put myself in the readers' shoes and find out what they want to know.  In this role, I'm not "creating", but "informing".

Which leads me to my role as a writer.  If I'm more left brained when I'm a journalist, I'm more right brained as a writer.  It's where my creative side kicks into overdrive.  When I'm writing, developing my ideas and giving them shape, I'm answering to myself first. I've been saying for a while how I'm developing some original IPs on my own and writing screenplay and book drafts, etc. to build the world I see in my mind.  From a creative standpoint, I'm trying to make sure that I'm putting together something that's original and ultimately entertaining.  Now, if I'm working on another person's creation, the rule still applies ... I'm building something and giving thoughts some sort of form, adding my own little take on how characters think and feel, and how the world around them reacts, all to keep things feeling fresh, alive, and most importantly, engaging.

See, the way I've viewed things, my journalism work is meant to get a hold of your attention, show you something interesting, and hopefully leave you walking away from it a little more informed than you were before you first came across my byline.  My writing work, on the other hand, is meant to engage you on a different level, designed specifically to create a suspension of belief.  It's a break away from the "real world".  Being a journalist means I'm writing something with a clear, concise point and with some sort of hard and almost tangible purpose. Being a writer means I'm delivering more of a feeling, working with something more intangible, and not always with a particular "goal" in mind other than to keep your interest.

Now that I've spent all this time and space trying to argue how being a "writer" and a "journalist" differ in my eyes, it's time to really skew it all up and talk about how they can play off of each other.  See, just because I'm covering the facts for an article doesn't mean I can't use my talent at a writer to help make things more interesting.  I can keep the facts concise and report on the information, but I can put the pieces provided to me together in such a way that you don't have to feel like everything is shoved down your throat.  I can use my creativity to help in the delivery of the news so that you're still informed, but also interested and even, on occasion, entertained.  On the flip side of the equation, the same attention to detail and research skills I use on a regular basis as a journalist can be applied to my work as a writer so that, despite its sometimes fantastic nature, the world I'm creating is still grounded enough to make you believe you could be right there in the thick of it.  All the questions I try to ask for the audience in my journalistic capacity can be asked just as easily in my writing. Just as I work to find out how and why the gears turn the way they do in the real world, and how things led up to specific point, I can use the same techniques to help the audience (and myself) to understand how these other worlds operate as well.

So there you have it. "Writer" vs. "Journalist". "Style" vs. "Substance".  They're different, distinct, but also related subjects which can play well together, but also deserving their own identities.  Best of all, in the right hands, these can all come together in a way that can make the end product more than the sum of its parts for the author and the audience.

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