Writing is Central to Every Area of Mass Communication
Some students of Mass Communication have the erroneous impression that they can get by in school and have a successful career subsequently without learning how to write. It is not uncommon to hear students say, “I intend to be a famous broadcast presenter,” “I’ll go into PR big time,” and the good one, “I have no interest in reporting wahala,” thinking it is only reporters who need writing skills to excel. This type of attitude amounts to laying a foundation for career suicide down the line.
In this post, I explain the relevance and indispensability of writing to various areas of Mass Communication to challenge students and practitioners who are putting the barest minimum of efforts into improving their writing abilities to start making hay while the sun shines.
***What career do you want to pursue after graduation?
***How are you ensuring that you are adequately learning the skills required for that career?
Relevance of writing in different areas of Mass Communication
It is widely known that the business of reporting news, analysing and commenting on it, cannot be done without writing. This is why students who aspire to be journalists are the most assiduous in learning how to write. Whether a journalist works in print media, broadcast media or on the web, he needs to write stories and analysis that are accurate, fair, balanced, vivid and capable of giving his readers/audience a vicarious experience of the events covered. Poor vocabulary translates to limited descriptive abilities, wrong word usage and unnecessarily short and insipid accounts. Poor grammar elicits confusion and irritation among the receivers of the journalist’s reports. Unintentional mistakes pop up because such journalists are unable to convey what they actually have in mind and their reporting is never trenchant enough to move those concerned to act.
News, features, editorials, commentaries and every other form of journalistic piece are only as useful as the writing skills of those who compose them.
A big chunk of air time in many broadcasting stations is devoted to journalism. Since the inception of Cable News Network in 1980 as a 24-hour cable news channel, many other exclusive news channels have sprung up. So the desire to be a glamorous broadcaster requires the ability to write if one intends to work in these news stations. Some people think that a news caster does not need writing skills, but most stations require their anchors to be seasoned reporters who can write news bulletins and phrase pertinent questions to ask news sources on air, be they correspondents, experts or news makers.
Other programmes aired on broadcast stations require properly tailored scripts, which a poor writer will mangle. For example, the moderator of a panel discussion programme or someone in his or her team needs to write a background piece on the topic for each episode of the programme to set the context for the discussion. This is also true for the hosts of news and current affairs shows that offer interpretation and commentary on important issues and events. They always start their shows with incisive opening monologues, which they and the writers for their shows craft. Even a duty announcer, who may be a junior staff, needs to compose witty remarks to keep the audience engaged and entertained, besides the written formal announcements he or she makes.
Excellent language skills are crucial for broadcasters because mistakes made live on air can be more damaging than those in print, which can be quietly corrected without most readers catching it.
To promote a person, product, group, organisation or idea, advertising agencies employ copy writers who compose catchy, memorable and persuasive messages. They are able to use words, sometimes in a rhythmic and rhyming fashion, to convey convincing appeals. It is clear from the foregoing that it takes a high level of craftsmanship to accomplish this. Advertisers pitch for accounts also and this requires writing and demonstration that will be moving enough to earn them new clients amidst stiff competition. These are just some examples of how writing is pertinent in advertising.
Public Relations (PR)
The amount of writing done in public relations will astound any young person who lands a job in a PR firm, thinking it’s about sitting in a swivel chair in an air-conditioned office meeting important personalities. Take the media relations officers of companies or press secretaries (called media aides in some quarters), the job description entails writing press releases- which are more or less news stories from PR practitioners distributed to news media on important developments in their organisations or plans/achievements by their principals; monitoring the media and issuing statements confirming or refuting claims made in reports about their bosses/organisations; writing supplements, advertorials, documentaries and other promotional packages for placement in the media; hosting media briefings where they release statements and field questions and issue follow-up statements thereafter.
It is clear that no one who is weak in writing can do the foregoing effectively nor do well in any other PR position. This is why many media aides are experienced journalists who have honed their writing skills over many years of practice on the job. They also know the media terrain very well by virtue of their work in various media organisations and have developed a network of colleagues in many media which makes it easier for them to attract and successfully request for publicity- which is a major tool of PR practice.
***How is writing pertinent to those working in film?
***How is writing important in book publishing?
***How is writing relevant in the field of sound recordings?
***Describe the career path of these two media aides to President Buhari:
• Femi Adesina
• Garba Shehu
Three ways to improve one’s writing skills
***Improving one’s writing abilities must necessarily involve becoming a voracious reader. Avid reading of the works of great writers, be they journalists, poets, playwrights, novelists or essayists, is indispensable in the quest to achieve verbal craftsmanship.
***The study of language textbooks that teach grammar, sentence construction and other fundamentals of the use of language is invaluable. Students should evaluate themselves to know the level where they need to start from. Some need to go back to primary or secondary level language textbooks to learn about singular and plural, words and their opposites, basic vocabulary building, summary and comprehension, etc. This is the result of having a poor foundation at lower levels of education, which if not corrected, will prevent advancement to excellent writing.
The use of textbooks that specifically teach how to write is also important. As one masters the basics of the language, it is necessary to learn about writing techniques and how to do various forms of writing- formal, informal; informative, educational, entertaining and persuasive; news, features, commentaries, etc.
***Practice in writing is inescapable for those who will excel at it. As American writer, John Angus McPhee once stated, it’s impossible to become a writer without actually writing. So the path to renown involves exercising oneself in writing constantly. Find a mentor or group of writers to criticise and help you fine-tune your work. Also, share your writing through various fora, e.g. via your social media accounts and invite candid reactions from readers. You can only get better that way.
Brande, D. (1981). On becoming a writer. Lost Angeles, CA: J. P. Thatcher Inc. (A classic)
Murthy, J. D. (2007). Contemporary English grammar. Lagos, Nigeria: Book Master.
Oji, N. (1988). English grammar for advanced students.. Uruowulu-Obosi, Nigeria: Pacific Publishers.
Eyisi, J. (2004). Common errors in the use of English. Onitsha, Nigeria: Africana First Publishers.
Ohaja, E.U. (2005) Feature writing simplified. Enugu, Nigeria: El ‘Demak.
Ohaja, E. U. (2004) Magazine article writing. Lagos, Nigeria: John Letterman.