By Rachel Phua, Year 2, CNM
Being able to succinctly convey one’s messages and stories in writing has never been more essential than in these media-saturated times. Whether the objective is to pry a fifteen year-old’s eyes away from the Katniss-Everdeen-braid tutorial video and direct them to the plight of the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, or to catch and sustain the attention of your boss and her board of directors, clear, concise and audience-oriented writing is what is needed in our times to communicate some of our most important ideas and feelings.
So boy, am I glad I signed up for NM2220 Introduction to Media Writing this semester, and got to hone this essential life skill. Now I’m looking forward to enhancing this skill, and sharpening it for catalysing social change in the follow-up class, News Writing and Reporting (NM3211).
Even better, I got to speak with my tutor, and former Reuters journalist, Ms Tan Ee Lyn, about her zest for developing these vital skills in as many people as possible. Below is the first part of my conversation with Ms Tan:
Why do you think it’s important for students to undergo a rigorous curriculum in news writing, whether or not they aspire to be journalists?
NM2220 Introduction to Media Writing gets students to become more effective writers. Whether or not you want to be a journalist, a PR professional, or anything in the communications business, you will want to be able to inform, educate and persuade your target audience when you go out to work. This course teaches you that – to be a more effective writer because you can pitch your messages in a way that can be best absorbed by people you want to persuade and convince. I can’t think of any white-collar job that doesn’t require a person to write these days, whether it’s a report, proposal or just a simple email. The world outside is entirely about persuading and convincing your boss, colleagues, clients, customers, even your adversaries. So if you consider effective writing a tool that will get you ahead, then it is absolutely necessary.
From next semester, I shall also be teaching News Reporting and Editing or NM3211. This course is for students with specific interest in journalism. It will show journalism in all its fields – politics, general news, business and finance, health and science, sports, entertainment, etc. This course shows them the ropes and the inside story, the twists and turns, the secrets. We will have exciting assignments, including simulations. It will be a blast. Both courses will be fun.
What are some of the new topics you have included in both NM2220 and NM3211 and why have you made these new adaptations?
For media writing (NM2220 Introduction to Media Writing), I will be adding the element of unpredictability because that is what happens in the real world. It will be woven into assignments and more. But I can’t say anymore here, because it’s meant to be … unpredictable. I will want students to come up with original content especially for the conventional media part of the course. They will have the chance to get their hands dirty, doing interviews and building a story from scratch.
For news reporting and editing (NM3211), I am adding separate sections on political and general news, business and finance, which are the staples of journalism. Students will be shown how these stories are done, what background research is needed and the writing styles that are particular to each of them. There will be a new section on reporting in hostile and conflict environments so students get a peek into what operating in extreme conditions means for the media.
For both courses, I am adding the element of purpose. Writing has a higher calling than just write. We write because we want to bring attention to neglected diseases, marginalized and disadvantaged peoples. We write because we want to push for change. If you pare writing down to its soul, toss out all its clothes and skin and bones, this is what you should find. If we manage to awaken that sense in you, then you would have taken something precious from this learning and made it a part of you. This should be why we write.
Many people may find writing a chore. Why do you think it’s good, and even exciting, for us to practise writing?
Writing need not be a chore. In fact, it can be a joy. Yet, even if a person never ever gets to love writing, it shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do. It shouldn’t be frightening. It should be easy. With the right frame of mind, such as keeping it simple, clear and short, you are already making your first steps to tackling writing, and perhaps, even liking it.
Who are some writers or journalists who have inspired you with their writing?
Some of my favourite journalists are Jim Flannery, Maggie Fox and Paul Majendie. They are my former colleagues, whose pieces were always a joy to read. The writings of these journalists are simple, fun, enriching and memorable. Maggie now writes for NBC. Helen Branswell at The Canadian Press, I admire her work greatly.
My favourite authors are Victor Pelevin, Malcolm Gladwell, and James Thurber, just to name a few. My all-time favourite is Thurber’s The Wonderful O, about this crazy pirate who hated everything that was circular in shape after his mother got stuck in a porthole and died. He turned into a ruler and started banning everything that was round, including wheels. At the end, he banished all words with “o” in them, including freedom, hope and love. You can imagine the ending.