Re: Journalism vrs. English

Subject: Re: Journalism vrs. English
From: Bill Burns <WBURNS -at- VAX -dot- MICRON -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 1995 08:40:34 MDT

Gina told Dan the following:

>> Try taking a few journalism courses from an accredited college and
then attempt to make such an inane statement.

I'm not sure if she was attacking Dan's alma mater or if she simply hadn't read
the part that said he had a journalism/English degree. Nonetheless, I think
the real point is what both programs offer that are beneficial to our tasks.

Journalism obviously offers some valuable tools for technical communication.
I've heard the value of journalism training touted quite a bit on this list,
but I haven't seen anyone point out the values of an education in English--in
large, I imagine, because the emphases in English programs can vary so much
that one program can be very different from another.

Here are some of the benefits I found in my English education:

o Training in linguistics

This training gave me experience in evaluating language registers
and dialects. Because of this training, I don't have a lot of
problem rewriting technical information for an 8th-grade audience.
I simply keep in mind some of the points I learned in History of
the English Language and my understanding of grammar
(transformational and non-).

o Constant scrutiny of compositions

My work came under careful scrutiny from published faculty. Since
the faculty had a pretty equal balance of composition and literature
instructors, I received feedback on both the validity of my research
and the approaches I used to convey that information.

o Extensive research requirements

I did not often have the opportunity to interview the people whose
research I used. However, that doesn't mean that I didn't ask the
same questions journalists ask when they perform an interview. The
difference is that I couldn't get answers in such a direct manner
(not to say that sources are always a breeze for journalists).
I often had to read copious amounts of written material to find
the answers to the questions I had. Yes, I did have more time to
write my pieces, but given the length requirements (usually between
fifteen and thirty pages), the amount of written material I needed
to cover, and the additional writing requirements from other courses
that often had deadlines at the same time, I'd say the tradeoff is
pretty even.

o Training in composition education

Since the BSU English department had a solid program in composition,
it put considerable focus on composition instruction. This training
(in workshop and in tutorial practice) has been invaluable to me as a
writer. Also, my work as a composition instructor has put me in
direct contact with my audience as a technical writer (sad but true).
Because reading and writing skills for incoming first-year students
are so poor, I have had to learn how to communicate at many
different levels to explain the basics of composition to my

Again, I'm not attacking journalism here; I'm simply pointing out the benefits
that the other approach has to offer. If we have such a myopic approach to
technique, we do ourselves and our readers a disservice.

Let's stop bashing each other's training and experience and move on to more
helpful topics. My cranium can take only so many verbal clubbings. %-)

Bill Burns *
Assm. Technical Writer/Editor * LIBERTY, n. One of Imagination's most
Micron Technology, Inc. * precious possessions.
Boise, ID *
WBURNS -at- VAX -dot- MICRON -dot- COM * Ambrose Bierce

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