HOW TO SPEAK AND WRITE CORRECTLY by JOSEPH DEVLIN, M.A.
CHAPTER XII Page 1: WRITING FOR NEWSPAPERS
Qualification, Appropriate Subjects and Directions
The newspaper nowadays goes into every home in the land; what was formerly regarded as a luxury is now looked upon as a necessity. No matter how poor the individual, he is not too poor to afford a penny to learn, not alone what is taking place around him in his own immediate vicinity, but also what is happening in every quarter of the globe. The laborer on the street can be as well posted on the news of the day as the banker in his office. Through the newspaper he can feel the pulse of the country and find whether its vitality is increasing or diminishing; he can read the signs of the times and scan the political horizon for what concerns his own interests. The doings of foreign countries are spread before him and he can see at a glance the occurrences in the remotest corners of earth. If a fire occurred in London last night he can read about it at his breakfast table in New York this morning, and probably get a better account than the Londoners themselves. If a duel takes place in Paris he can read all about it even before the contestants have left the field.
There are upwards of 3,000 daily newspapers in the United States, more than 2,000 of which are published in towns containing less than 100,000 inhabitants. In fact, many places of less than 10,000 population can boast the publishing of a daily newspaper. There are more than 15,000 weeklies published. Some of the so-called country papers wield quite an influence in their localities, and even outside, and are money-making agencies for their owners and those connected with them, both by way of circulation and advertisements.
It is surprising the number of people in this country who make a living in the newspaper field. Apart from the regular toilers there are thousands of men and women who make newspaper work a side issue, who add tidy sums of “pin money” to their incomes by occasional contributions to the daily, weekly and monthly press. Most of these people are only persons of ordinary, everyday ability, having just enough education to express themselves intelligently in writing.
It is a mistake to imagine, as so many do, that an extended education is necessary for newspaper work. Not at all! On the contrary, in some cases, a high-class education is a hindrance, not a help in this direction. The general newspaper does not want learned disquisitions nor philosophical theses; as its name implies, it wants news, current news, interesting news, something to appeal to its readers, to arouse them and rivet their attention. In this respect very often a boy can write a better article than a college professor. The professor would be apt to use words beyond the capacity of most of the readers, while the boy, not knowing such words, would probably simply tell what he saw, how great the damage was, who were killed or injured, etc., and use language which all would understand.
Of course, there are some brilliant scholars, deeply-read men and women in the newspaper realm, but, on the whole, those who have made the greatest names commenced ignorant enough and most of them graduated by way of the country paper. Some of the leading writers of England and America at the present time started their literary careers by contributing to the rural press. They perfected and polished themselves as they went along until they were able to make names for themselves in universal literature.
If you want to contribute to newspapers or enter the newspaper field as a means of livelihood, don’t let lack of a college or university education stand in your way. As has been said elsewhere in this book, some of the greatest masters of English literature were men who had but little advantage in the way of book learning. Shakespeare, Bunyan, Burns, and scores of others, who have left their names indelibly inscribed on the tablets of fame, had little to boast of in the way of book education, but they had what is popularly known as “horse” sense and a good working knowledge of the world; in other words, they understood human nature, and were natural themselves. Shakespeare understood mankind because he was himself a man; hence he has portrayed the feelings, the emotions, the passions with a master’s touch, delineating the king in his palace as true to nature as he has done the peasant in his hut. The monitor within his own breast gave him warning as to what was right and what was wrong, just as the daemon ever by the side of old Socrates whispered in his ear the course to pursue under any and all circumstances. Burns guiding the plough conceived thoughts and clothed them in a language which has never, nor probably never will be, surpassed by all the learning which art can confer. These men were natural, and it was the perfection of this naturality that wreathed their brows with the never-fading laurels of undying fame.