Magazine article The Masthead

Experience Not the Only Route to Journalistic Competence: We Can Write Convincingly without Experience, but It Takes Work

Magazine article The Masthead

Experience Not the Only Route to Journalistic Competence: We Can Write Convincingly without Experience, but It Takes Work

Article excerpt

Anyone notice what's missing from Trevor Lautens' nostalgic and contemplative walk down the armed forces memory lane?

The female voice.

As the editorializing profession welcomes more women into the fold, it raises the question of "our" ability to write with credibility and authority on such issues as the realities of war. Gracious, in a world rife with military and sports metaphors, how's a girl supposed to communicate?

It isn't just the women in today's newsrooms who lack DD214s, however. The demarcation line is one of generation rather than gender.

Scan your newsroom. How many of the men served time in a uniform? Granted, there is a trueness of voice in those who have experienced first-hand the hours of relentless boredom punctuated by moments of abject terror that is combat, or law enforcement, lot that matter. That does not mean one cannot write persuasively about the soldier's or the police officer's experience without brass on the collar or steel on the hip.

Can a white write with conviction about the African American's struggle for equality? Can a Christian speak with power about a Muslim's right to practice Islam? Can a man write convincingly about childbirth?

Absolutely, but it takes work. It takes connecting on a personal level with people who have been there, done that, worn out the t-shirt. That kind of research can't be done from in front of a computer terminal, but it can happen without enlisting in the army of Uncle Sam or Allah, or growing ovaries.

But then, everything we produce as editorial writers should take hard work--as much research, if not more, than what it takes for reporters to produce the stories that serve as the seeds of editorials. Opinion writers are sponges: We soak up information, then add context, perspective, and analysis before squeezing out the river of words that nurture kernels of ideas into fully formed debates. …

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