The News Media
The backbone of the news media is print journalism. In the early, early days the news media was about the basics: news spread via word of mouth. During the Roman Empire governments transferred written accounts, via people, long distances.
Fast forward quite a bit to the invention of the printing press in 1456, which is attributed to Johannes Gutenberg, and you have the beginnings of the mass dispersion of information, i.e. news.
Fast forward again, to the 1920s, and we see some of the early developments in news media, as professional journalism standards are created and adopted.
What is Journalism?
Journalism is the reporting of news. And, as I note here, the basics are the 5 W’s: The Who, What, Where, When and Why of a story. Although print journalists adhere to a somewhat strict style of how they present a story, there are various subjects being reported on. If you peruse any major newspaper, like The Washington Post or The New York Times, you’ll notice all the different sections. A good exercise to get a feel for the different types of news being reported is to check out a weekend edition of the big papers -- then you’ll notice there is everything from travel to sports to business to arts to culture.
"Genres" in Journalism
In addition to the various subjects being reported on in journalism, there are also different ways of transmitting the story.
In short, there are different styles or “genres” of journalism. A few examples include investigative journalism (in which a reporter tries to uncover wrongdoing by following a story almost like a detective); and long-form or narrative journalism, also known as “new journalism” (in which stories are longer and almost prose-like).
There is also a rift between features, which may cover a person or a trend, and straight-up news stories, which deliver information directly about something that’s happened.
Reading Up on Journalism
The above is a pretty brief rundown of journalism, so it’s a great idea to read up more about the field if it interests you. To that end here are some books, from straightforward tomes about writing stories to romantic (and sometimes crazy) tales of being a reporter:
- The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel: This book is a good primer on the basics of news writing.
- Associated Press Guide to News Writing: Another good guide to straightforward news reporting.
- The New New Journalism by Robert Boynton: A wonderful collection of interviews with some of the leading long-form journalists working today. Especially good since the reporters share details on their work habits and how they got started in the industry.
- The Mammoth Book of Journalism: 101 Masterpieces from the Finest Writers and Reporters edited by Jon Lewis: Since I think it’s inherently important to simply read great writing to become a better writer, this collection is a good place to start. In it you'll find pieces by some of the luminaries in the field, everyone from Hemingway to Orwell.
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson: What do two guys with a car-full of drugs headed out for a bender in Vegas have to do with journalism? Well, Thompson, who's credited with creating Gonzo Journalism -- his free-wheeling style was marked by the fact that he inserted himself into his stories -- is a giant in the field. To boot, the book's a very fun read. (Also check out Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail, in which Thompson chronicles covering the ’72 presidential race…as irreverently and drugged up as ever.)
- Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss: Even if you’re not planning on being a copy editor, you should have more than passable grammar skills. And this nifty little guide to punctuation makes a seemingly boring topic quite a bit of fun.
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White: Since we can't talk grammar and not mention the classic book on the topic, I advise checking out this little book; it's original standard, originally published in 1957, for the basic elements of writing.
- The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse -- A much-loved account of Crouse’s time following the ’72 presidential election as a reporter “on the bus,” i.e. traveling with the candidates (same as Thompson in the aforementioned Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail) Nixon and McGovern.