krugmanEvery once in awhile I go back to school: I read up on the basics of writing a good story or essay. Here are some of the lessons I’ve recently learned, courtesy of the Columbia School of Journalism’s site,, and

  • Organize your material: Put it in a rough sequence, in an order that will be sensible and engaging to the audience
  • Write the first draft quickly, then go back and self-edit
  • Ask ‘who cares?’ about every sentence, and be ruthless excising extraneous material
  • Be original: A different spin, original research or investigation, an interview or first-hand account, a personal photo, a chart — all of these can add enormous value and readibility
  • Never make anything up, even if it’s plausible
  • If something from one source is suspicious, check another source
  • Always credit your sources
  • Don’t let pressure to produce compromise the quality of your work
  • Use the title, first sentence and (if the article is long or complex) a two to three sentence abstract up-front to both inform and draw in your audience
  • Close with a memorable sentence

Postscript: If you’re ever researching Who Owns What in the media, The CSJ has a great site on just this subject, here. Oh, and the photo is Paul Krugman. Studying his work is also a great way to improve your writing skills.

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3 Responses to JOURNALISM 101

  1. Thanks, Dave. Some good reminders while I’m trying to wrap uo the September issue.

  2. Up. That should be up. Did the CSJ say anything about typos?

  3. mrG says:

    While it all sounds fuzzy and warm, I’m hard pressed to find a single working example, and that always leads me to ask the question, “But it is a good idea?”Truly we love to imagine a world of fair and balanced craft-work journalism, but where is that world? Newspapers were invented for and continue to be the voice of opinion intent on influence and pursuasion … even if that influence is only to lead you to a page with some specific advertiser’s barker pitch. This is the reality of journalism: It’s veiled marketing everywhere except a few places in non-sponsored press (who then bow to their patrons). Like Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody“For example, take that recent incursion into Iraq. Compare the stodgy old BBC or stodgier Reuters to CNN, compare CNN to the Washington Post and them to the Grand Damme NYT — I’ll grant that the drafts are written quickly (and often that’s as far as it gets) and I’ll grant the point on spin-as-editorial-identity, but where, pray tell, are the rest of Columbia’s advices?Same place as the hair on both a pear and on Fred Astaire: No where mon frere. IMHO, this wishlist list says more about academia than it does about journalism. It says that, like the monastic orders of old, modern academia lives in a Magic Kingdom that salves and soothes, but hardly prepares. If people want balanced journalism, I recommend turning to the funny pages because, just as in the days of King Leer or even in the days of King Wan (the one who wrote the I-Ching) only fools dare speak the truth.Fools and blogs.

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