The Journalist and the Wordsmith


I was told recently that a strong Journalist can write something, every day. A column. A comment. That they can pluck a theory from the buzzing circuits in their minds and turn it into beauty any day. Maybe not beauty always, perhaps from time to time a melancholic prose that raises emotion or a desire to act within the reader.

I disagree. A good Journalist can take a theory, an idea or a hunch – disappear into the depths of the topic and string together quotes from every key player involved. They can ferret their way into the heart of the matter, and construct an argument based upon the facts that is both convincing and honest. That may take a day alone – and it’s heart pumpingly exciting when it does. But it may also take a week, a month, a year.

The same Journalist may even come back to that topic, monthly, annually; exploring alternative views of the same to give the reader a real three-hundred-and-sixty-degree tour of the situation.

It is a good Wordsmith, who can turn a mere notion around into a stream of heart capturing words within a days notice. No objectivity needs to be sought, just the notions of the writer themselves, splashed on to a page like a colour canvas that perhaps could be read to a myriad of conclusions.

Neither artist is right or wrong, better or worse, but their goals and objectives are very far apart. They may even be two personalities encapsulated within the same: the ideal is to be a good Journalist, and a good Wordsmith, but we’re not all so lucky or so taken with one art or the other. Most have a leaning. (The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson is a strange dichotomy of both, fiction created around incredible dedication to journalism.)

Regardless which path the author is chasing down – a waterfall of incredible words to pour over the mind of an unwitting spectator, drawing emotions they didn’t know were there; or an objective argument that encourages a reaction (and ideally physical action) – he or she needs time if they’re to create something real.

Time to think, time to formulate, time to get to the heart of the matter or to dig away into the maze of facts and contradictory statements. Time: that great, all-encompassing concept that will just keep on clicking away regardless how much of its provision we decide to dedicate to a given task.

The provision of time accounted for in creation seems to be sinking, and rapidly. I can write a word doodle, copy and paste it into an online diary and have it published for all to see in minutes if I so wish. That’s exactly what will likely happen to this particular word doodle. No real direction, no real consideration – just a stream of characters to realise a visceral need to see words appear in sentences to be read. That’s ideal in terms of practice, keeping writing alive in the soul – but it won’t ever create an artwork that will live longer than a couple of hours, if that.

The Wordsmith type can conjure more in a short space of time than the Journalist type. They can write something two dimensional in a day, but not something 3D – they need longer to bring lives to life. The Journalist, to make something real and genuine, needs that time to seek sources outside of themselves. Given limited time they’ll revert to ‘he said, she said’ – linking to questionable sources and certainly not those of their own finding.

As well as time, both writers need a clear head – a mind that is allowed to be uncluttered for just long enough for them to shape their creations. They need to step away from the moment, from the next activity, from the daily plan of need-to and must-do. The to-do list has to be cast aside, unless its contents are entirely related to the task at hand.

Finally. And my final quality could have been one of many, but in keeping with a list of three I had to cross of a myriad and choose the one that most applies. On this list were objectivity, patience, self-belief. They all bowed down to my final selection.

Finally, comes creativity. A flame so burning and so bright that it can feel like a tangle of uncomfortable emotion in the chest; yet one so easily extinguished with the buzz of living in mediocrity.  Both writers need creativity of some kind.

You may ask why the Journalist needs such a quality – surely objectivity rates higher one the list. And it’s true that you wouldn’t want them to use that creativity to bend the words of their confidants to serve their own goals – though of course many do. However, creativity is what they need to bring the tale alive, to make it apply and appeal to their audience – to make them care.

And the Wordsmith. He or she needs creativity to conjure a doodle of words, to begin at one end of the topic and turn full circle, having explored much of human nature along the way. He or she needs creativity to write something that makes their own soul sing. Every day.

Published by michellearthurs

I'm an NCTJ Journalist and work at Cycling Weekly. Previous to this, I was the Editor at Total Women's Cycling. I've also dabbled in marketing and copywriting - having been Marketing Coordinator and Social Media/Content Editor at Evans Cycles. My first job was working on a local newspaper.  I've written for a variety of titles on a freelance basis, too. I got into cycling when I entered my first triathlon in 2010. I now race crits, road races, time trials, and do a lot of track training for not very much track racing.

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