Newspaper Copy and the Death of Writing

There seems to be a lot of bland writing out there these days. Ok, I’ll call a spade a spade, it’s insipid. These words with no voice, no ideas, no sense of meter or beat; for someone who can appreciate the subtleties and fineries of the English language, it can be painful at times. It doesn’t have to be all Shakespeare, or glitz, but just well done and showing some effort went into those keystrokes.

It’s the newspapers that are to blame. Cost cutting has meant the closing down of foreign bureaus, shedding writers with great expertise, rushing stuff into print before giving it a thorough edit. Many papers these days are no more than shells for AP, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse (AFP). And throw in syndicated material from the world-reknowed papers (Guardian, Wall Street Journal), and the second tier newspapers are virtually one man operations; just printing machines for advertising.

This straight up, nothing but the facts approach is deadly. Ideas are what spark the mind, ideas are what can trigger a reaction. Presenting ‘data’ is not writing.

Or to put it another way, there is nothing that says style cannot be married with substance. You don’t have to choose just one, you can go with both. In fact, the style can often reinforce the message, make it more effective. Make it more readable.

There ain’t nothing wrong with style. All the best writers now and then have always had a distinctive voice. It’s humanity and it’s humane.

Down with machine language!


16 Responses to “Newspaper Copy and the Death of Writing”

  1. Tina Says:

    So very true. Thanks for stopping by my site. You write very well. I’ll be visiting you again 🙂

  2. ggwfung Says:

    well, I’m glad it’s not newspaper copy. Thanks for visiting Tina!


  3. Sin Says:

    Reminds me of a recent article i read on the net about “Slimes of India”.

  4. Black Knight Says:

    Is this a private rant session or may anyone join in?

    The thing that really annoys me about newspaper writing is the ‘one sentence per paragraph’ disease that seems to have stricken former bastions of written English. This is especially prevalent in online editions, notably Perhaps then, given that Aunty Beeb is recidivist, it is not surprising that Ozstralyan papers — The Australian and the Herald, for example — have followed suit.

    It’s one of those things that you don’t notice, and then you realize it is everywhere. A brief look across the Pond reveals that the New York Times is similarly offensive, but at least they use the em dash correctly.

  5. Ekker Says:

    I partially agree with you GGW. Perhaps another thing that comes to mind with the lack of ideas would be the lack of freedom to write about things that may infuriate certain governments. Well that is because not every country is protected by the Freedom of Press right and that may very well contribute to the lack of voices, ideas etc.

  6. ggwfung Says:

    Thank you Ekker. Yes, my argument is quite a narrow one, and probably only covers the English Language media, a small part of the world population wise. Of course, the press in China, Russia, and the Middle East work under very different conditions and constraints, and I can’t speak at all on their state.

    Thanks for the comment. Much appreciated.


  7. homeyra Says:

    So true. Next chapter: TV talking 🙂

  8. radiantwoman Says:

    How about sharing some tips to write about ideas to spark the mind? I would read that article!

  9. JLB Says:

    Interesting thoughts, all of them. I can certainly agree that there is a fair portion of mass-media communications that lack strength and style, but there are also a lot more writers in the world now than there were in Shakespeare’s day.

    Today, all of us can jump online and share our thoughts. The effectiveness of good writing comes not only from its sense of style and purpose, but also its ability to communicate clearly and effective for its intended audience – big or small.

    To add a thought to Black Knight’s observation about the one-sentence-paragraph phenomenon, I believe that there is another element to that which actually makes it important to write that way: what it’s like to read something online.

    A webpage, like a book page, must make decisions about how it uses whitespace. For many readers, short, regularly-spaced segments in a single prose piece are much easier to read online than many lines of large, long, dense paragraphs. When I started blogging, I learned to adjust my online writing style using shorter, self-contained paragraphs in order to make it easier to read online.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and for stopping by Brainripples.


  10. Brandon Says:

    Hey buddy,

    I’m inclined to agree with you. I think there can be a happy medium between style and substance. For me, I like my writing to have an emotional impact on the reader, or at least have it provoke some thought. Reading data on a screen is no more interesting than watching paint dry, unless the data is woven into a creative set of paragraphs. Anyways, keep up the good work! Thanks again for reading my long-winded post. 🙂


  11. John F. Deethardt II Says:

    Not only the newspapers are at fault. The diction I encounter on blogs and emails is terrible. The shorthand and typos are leading to some unprecedented product. Our language is emergent, subject to the process of evolution. Words are dying. Words are being born. The deviation from what is standard as I know it is leaving me in its dust. My death will save me from having to learn English as a foreign language. I never wanted to be the old codger sitting on a patk bench contemplating, “What will they think of next.” So I became a futurist. But I still sit and contemplate that stuff, and think…

  12. dimaks Says:

    Just a thought, perhaps substance can better exist with data?

  13. Kelly Says:

    Perhaps this is why blogs and zines are gaining in popularity. K

  14. Ann O'Johnson Says:

    May I recommend to your attention an investigative journalist who turned political astrologer when he started studying the correlations (note: I did not, I repeat, not, say causations) between current events and astrology.

    Eric Francis is posting some of the wisest political commentary of our day, and correlating it with the wisdom and mythology of astrology at

    Currently, his main page gives is annual forecasts.

  15. ggwfung Says:

    Thanks for the link Ann. I do have an interest in all things, including astrology, for me, you can’t argue with what works, even if you don’t understand all the fine details of the process.


  16. John Deethardt Says:

    I might ammend my above remarks by saying that what I decry may be the evidence of the evolution of language usage. Only we know that fruit flies are prominent in evolution research because they can be run through many generations in a short time. That may be a good analogy for the evolution of language usage, since the fruit-flies of the web have produced a prodigious amount of verbiage where their jargon, acronyms, contractions and shorthand and other renditions of language are racing ahead of most and leaving us Neanderthals behind, while they form new tribes for new civilizations. It’s called acceleration in history and exponential growth, the pendulum swinging faster and faster.

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