Writing is one of the best ways of communicating with other parties, whether individuals or groups. It requires skill and creativity to make the message meaningful and appealing to readers.
As an instrument for the mobilization and participation of the populace towards a worthy cause, it is another form of social service to the public. Through literary skills, one may promote better understanding of culture, tradition and religious creeds.
Generally, writing remains a good legacy for generations who may refer to it as reference material. Therefore, it serves as historical documentation which life span extends beyond the demise of the writer. That may likely be the reason for reliance on written materials in all levels of institutions of learning in the communication of ideas, opinions, questions and answers and extension of knowledge across generations.
It is used too to influence changes and decision makers are known to have been compelled to re-examine their policies and programmes, as a result of constructive criticisms by writers. Writing is also used to contribute to national and international debates that could improve peopleís living standards and promote better understanding amongst the populace.Many writers, for instance in Nigeria, have found themselves in high positions of responsibilities and assigned with greater tasks for their impartiality and objectivity. It is an undeniable fact that writers contributed immensely to the independence of Nigeria and were also instrumental to the restoration of democracy in the country through their various campaigns in the media.
There are several reasons and purposes for writing. Just as there are formal and informal writings, there are also different techniques in writing for the media. In a nutshell, writing for the media is geared towards informing, educating and entertaining readers without losing focus on the main message of the write-up.
1. The Media
The Media of information can be summarily categorised into two - the print and electronic media. The electronic media include all the media/channels of mass-communication, which are transmitted by electronic devices. These include television, radio and internet broadcasting and cinema, among others.
The print media, which are the focus of this book, are all those media of information that involve printing words on papers. They are the magazines, which are usually non-daily and the newspapers that come in different sizes, mostly printed on newsprints and produced daily and some, weeklies. There are also the journals among them, which are more professional in design and scope for specific trades, occupations and pastimes.
In the print media, the person who is responsible for what finally goes into the paper and published is the editor. He is the person who signs the paper, as it is said in journalism parlance. He may have superiors like the Managing Editor, the Executive Editor or the Editor in Chief, depending on the structure in each print media organisation. There are also line editors for other departments/sections of the papers like the news editor, opinion/features editors, sports editors, entertainment editors, and so on and so forth who are subordinates to the editor. As their names imply, they receive and edit all materials for publication according to their beat. The editor is also referred to as the gatekeeper who determines what should go in and what should be rejected.
In addition to the editors, there are also the proof-readers and sub editors who assist the editors to further vet materials before they are finally endorsed for publication.
2. Types of Writing
There are different types of writing. In the school for instance, there are such writings as essays, compositions, poems, formal and informal letters, thesis and dissertations and several other forms of writings. The style for media writing can take any of these forms but it should be either analytical, commentaries or investigative arguments. These are expressed in several ways, which may be descriptive, investigative, argumentative, narrative, persuasive or prescriptive.
In media circles there are names given to media writings. They range from news stories to tributes. The list includes:
a. Press-Release-News Stories
b. Feature Article/Opinion/Letter
d Rejoinders/ rebuttals
f. Creative Writing/Fiction/Poems
3. State of mind
One must develop interest in a particular subject, issue and matter which in the view of the writer, may be of public interest, before a decision to write is made. There is the need to meditate on and have a good idea of the topic for discussion. Therefore, lack of interest and lack of idea on the topic disqualify the person from writing a piece that is coherent, meaningful and educative. The writer should not be in a hurry to write, otherwise he may lose creativity, sequence, meaning and originality. If a person does not feel like writing, it is better to defer it to a better period. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a person who is not in a good state of mind to force himself/herself to write effectively unless commissioned to do so on schedule. Even then, the product may leave much to be desired.
To achieve a stable state of mind, a well controlled/managed emotion, conducive/ serene environment, devoid of distraction, is recommended. The writer needs inspiration. Some writers are noted for conceiving ideas in different environments. Some writers get inspiration and sound ideas creativity in the garden, deserted play ground, farm house, toilets and late in the night, when every mortal must have been asleep.
4. Research and Planning
No matter how experienced a writer is, research and further study enrich knowledge on a topic. It is one thing to be really acquainted with the subject fully, it is another to know the current thinking and happening on the same issue. Afterall, what was news yesterday may be stale today. To unravel unfolding events, a writer must get further information to broaden his scope of knowledge and enliven his write-ups. The research method for writing here, does not necessarily mean the normal academic research. It is searching or investigating the problems for necessary solutions or more on documented facts. The library is a good place to search for knowledge where more relevant information may be acquired
The research may be any or include the following: further readings, interviews with experts, discussions with colleagues who may have ideas and visits to places relevant to the topic. You must also have time to read the works of other people like the articles of celebrated and respected columnists, editorials and contents of letters and opinion pages. Reading makes a man versed.
Every communication is planned ahead of its implementation. So writing for the media cannot be an exception. Though it has been said that every message for a specific target audience must have an opening, body and conclusion. Some styles have however evolved which are not so rigid. For instance, the opening may probably be the conclusion, while the end is the opening. This could be seen in some write-ups that put the readers in suspense throughout till the end.
It must be known that, while planning the write-up, the writers should ask and be able to state the following:
a. what is the issue?
b. why is it necessary to write?
c. where can relevant information and materials
d. which styles of writing could be better in
the arrangement of the plot and paragraph?
e. who are the audience and the particular media
that may find the work relevant?
f. when should I start the writing so that it does not
become stale/ belated?
g. how could it benefit the society?
The planning here lays emphasis on the item (d) above. Once all the materials and information gathered are ready, it is for the writer to decide how to arrange them in a beautiful and captivating composition. He may begin by stating the problems, what others have said, his own views and conclude with a position for the readers to reason with him.
Writing, unlike spoken word, is documented and recorded for posterity. A good command of language is necessary. One must be conversant with the grammar, punctuation marks, paragraphing, sentence construction, choice of words and figure of speech. A good writer should know how to, in few sentences and selected words, convey messages in full without necessarily exhausting sheets of papers.
Quotable quotes of renowned figures are also useful. It must be stated that one does not need to be a believer to realize that there are verses in the holy Books - the Qumran and the Bible, that can be quoted in writings for more emphasis on emotional or religious appeals or to sound authoritative. There are also books of quotations, proverbs and verses which are helpful to writers for further reference. You may also buttress your views with African proverbs, incantations and idioms. It makes a writing appear well researched and rich.
In addition to the above, a dictionary which is a must for every writer, and the thesaurus which enables a writer to substitute words with those that are most approriate, should be a writerís companion.
Every profession has its language. If one is writing a professional article, for instance on banking, relevant terminologies should be used instead of cheap or laymanís words. Such terminologies should not be overused to avoid boring the readers. If the medium for the publication is not for that profession, the choice of words should be carefully selected so that readers or even the receiving editor does not need to be consulting the dictionary for every word in a sentence.
For those who like being bombastic or using highfalutin language or words difficult to understand, to impress readers, they need to realize that what makes sense in writing is the ability to make the message as clear and simple as possible for the readers to get the message being conveyed. In fact, there is no communication once the targeted readers cannot understand the writing.
Every profession has its tools, so also is writing which paraphernalia ranges from cheap writing materials such as pencils, erasers, pens and sheets of paper. A handy jotter and a mini-dictionary are mobile tools that may be useful all the time when an idea or more facts are received. Reference materials like newspaper clips and relevant books are inevitable for accurate and factual composition. Other recommended tools for those that can afford them are a typewriter or computer sets and printer for neat copies since handwritten materials are not acceptable anymore for official communication in the modern society. For a balanced sitting posture, it is necessary to have tables and chairs. Only while during reading for relaxation can one lay on the bed or on a bare floor.
Please note that you should not just write what appeals to you but also what appeals to the media and most importantly, the readers. It is like selling a good product. It must be remembered at this stage that there are some specific techniques for contributing articles to the media. These include timely delivery of the article, a pre-emptive write-ups which editors, for instance, use at a particular period to commemorate annual events, e.g., Christmas/Children Day and Independence. The write-ups are sent well ahead of the day with instructions given to the editor to embargo for the event etc. Writers should be mindful of the length, style and their message at all time. If one is writing for the first time, it would be better to start of with a ĎLetter to the Editorí better expressed in few paragraphs. After successful publications lengthy features may be considered. You should revise the write-ups after the last copy, at least thrice, or and allow other competent persons to comment on it. You will benefit from that.
With the advancement in technology, the traditional hand delivery of written materials to the local offices of the media agencies or even through postal services, may not be necessary. An article can be submitted through Fax machines and E-mail services to reach the editorís desk in a few seconds. Double-spacing is recommended on preferably A4 size plain white paper. The font size of the alphabet should be 12 points preferably in Times Roman type face. It may be addressed to the relevant editor; it could be the General Editor, Editor-in-Chief, Opinion-Page Editor, Features Editor, Political Editor, Sports editor etc. the full name and address of the writer (not post office box) must be stated as ghost and faceless writers are not entertained. But if you intend to use a pseudonym, seek the editorís consent or consideration.
9. Target Audience
When writing for the media, it is necessary for the writer to be mindful that he is writing for the general public that include the poor, the rich, policy makers, civil servants, opinion leaders, students, artisans, politicians, electorate, tribes and adherents of different religions. Most newspapers today in Nigeria do not specify or state who their readers are, but from their editorial contents and major areas of coverage, it would be easy to determine their major readers.
Some argue that the Nigerian Tribune has huge following amongst the Yoruba and South- Westerners probably because it was established by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and based in Ibadan, the stronghold of the race. The Daily Trust of Mallam Kabiru Yusuf, with its operational base in Kaduna and Abuja is claimed to be largely patronized by the Hausa-Fulanis or Northerners. In the same vein the Champion and the Post Express owned by Chief Emmanuel Nwanyawu and Chief Sunny Odogwu respectively, are believed to champion the cause of the Ibos or South-Easterners. There are arguments and different claims on the readership and circulation strength of newspapers in the industry, but with good study of the editorial policy of the newspapers, a writer who identifies his readers for a particular piece may easily identify the media that can easily accept his work for publication. For instance, due to the dissimilarity in editorial policies of the media houses, some accept while others reject articles that try to promote such struggles as the OPC, Massobs, Egbesu, APC and all ethnic militias.
10 Bad Habits
Many contributions to newspapers by some writers have been rejected for the following reasons:
a. Late submission of articles whose theme may have been overtaken by events on new developments. However, a timeless piece submitted may be published anytime, at the discretion of the editor
b. Poor language, too much spelling and grammatical mistakes, which ought to have been edited, even through computer grammar and spell checkers
c. Inconsistent and incoherent composition of write-ups, leading to lack of flow and direction
d. Excessive use of bombastic and high-sounding jargons. Rather than impress the readers, such write-ups confuse them more and are at best meaningless.
e. Libelous statements which may be subjects of litigation and thus creating unnecessary controversies
f. Praise singing, self-pride and salesmanship which are better done through paid adverts.
g. Insistence on the need to know the date and the space for the publication in the media, forgetting that many contribute to the media solicited and unsolicited materials almost everyday.
h. Attempts to bribe editors with the intent to get articles used by all means
i. Failure to get the write-up well typed and to strictly abide by the media requirements on articles submission which include minimum and maximum word requirements, spacing in-between the lines, page margin and font sizesj. Drug-taking, on the erroneous belief that this may inspire the writer with good ideas and better composition.