Journalistic Writing: Characteristics & Functions

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  • 0:01 What Is Journalistic Writing?
  • 1:32 Social Function of Journalism
  • 3:43 Elements of…
  • 5:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Like any type of writing, journalistic writing has a specific style that is identifiable by it's characteristics. Through this lesson, you will learn about the function of journalism and explore several important characteristics of journalistic writing.

What Is Journalistic Writing?

Not too long ago, in the pre-Internet days, people had limited options for accessing the news. Daily news came in the form of newspapers or television news programs, while the less urgent stories could be found in magazines or weekly newspaper supplements. Nowadays, we have instant 24/7 access to any type of news in any format, thanks to the Internet. Yet, while the ways in which people consume the news have changed dramatically, the style and principles that guide journalistic writing have remained largely unchanged.

Journalistic writing is the style of writing used to report news stories in newspapers, television broadcasts, on radio and on the Internet. Unlike other styles of writing, which can be flexible and casual, the characteristics of journalistic writing are pretty easy to spot. For instance, if you opened a book to a chapter and set it next to a newspaper article, you'd probably notice that, unlike the book, the article is written in short sentences and paragraphs and quickly gets to the point.

In addition to their brevity, news stories have a particular structure that is easily recognizable. The big, bold headline, for example, is intended to grab readers' attention, while the first sentence or paragraph lays out the story so the reader knows what to expect. These are the most common elements of journalistic writing and, as you'll see, they have a lot to do with the function of journalism in society.

The Social Function of Journalism

The primary function of journalism is to inform the public by reporting on local, national and global news and events. Given that, journalists strive to write articles that have wide appeal and can be easily understood. You'll remember that one of the obvious characteristics is short sentences and paragraphs, which are intended to make the article easy to read and understand.

In most cases, journalistic writing is objective, meaning that it relies on facts and evidence, rather than opinions or emotional appeals. Many journalists view their work as a public service, and journalistic ethics set a very high standard for objectivity and fact-checking. Journalists are tasked with providing readers with accurate information on an event as it happened, including the different and sometimes conflicting opinions on the subject. Moreover, a strong news article will present the facts of the story, sometimes including charts or graphs, and take the time to explain the numbers or contributing factors so the reader better understands the material.

Although the majority of traditional journalism strives for objectivity, many news outlets do offer opinions or arguments in a specific format known as an editorial column or section. These columns often focus on controversial social issues, like gun control or education, and they give the journalists and outlets the opportunity to make their position on these issues known to their readers.

The emphasis on verifiable evidence is the foundation of good journalism, which brings us to another important characteristic: quotes. Journalists often use quotes extensively because they provide credibility. Additionally, because they are attempting to be unbiased, most journalists will try to include quotes from all involved in a story, regardless of whether or not they agree with the individual. This can be particularly important when the story reports controversial or dangerous events. For example, if you were writing about a public safety issue like a major flood, your story would be greatly enhanced by having quotes from public safety officials who readers are likely to trust more than they would an unfamiliar journalist.

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