MediaWriting: Print, broadcast and public relations
by W Richard Whitaker, Janet E Ramsey and Ronald D Smith (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, New Jersey, 2nd ed. 2004): 448pp, £46.99 (pbk), ISBN 0 8058 4688 3.
Reviewed by Paula Peebles
This is the second edition of a book originally published in the mid-1990s. It is primarily intended as a classroom resource for 'aspiring news writers' (i.e. media and journalism students).
The text contains several special features, such as explanatory 'How to' boxes, 'It Happened to Me' vignettes of personal experiences, and discussion questions and practical exercises at the end of each chapter. This is an American book and thus employs US style and examples from the US media.
The chapter on the 'Basics of writing and editing' is particularly pertinent for SfEP members and is the one I most enjoyed reading. It does not explain basic punctuation and grammar but concentrates rather on writing style and clarity, covering principles of standard usage, simple language and meaningful language.
There are several amusing examples of the type of 'journalese' that is best avoided, such as pretentious language (a government report referring to cows and pigs as 'grain-consuming animal units') and the creation of nonsensical new words ('to CD-ROMify', anyone?). It also contains good advice on flouting the conventional guidelines of English: 'The key is to do the bending carefully, infrequently, and with full knowledge of both the rule and the reason for bending it.'
Other chapters cover topics such as communication theory, research, ethical and legal issues, interviewing, feature writing and various forms of public relations copy. There is a two-page author index and a fairly comprehensive 12-page subject index, although unfortunately this suffers from some layout problems with the subheading indents.
In need of revision
The book is written in an accessible and humorous style and contains many recent examples from the US media (such as the Jayson Blair plagiarism controversy and various instances of White House 'doublespeak'). It is perhaps debatable how useful the book is to a UK readership, but it could aid those who edit US-style publications or who want to learn more about the US media. The updated sections in this edition on digital and internet technologies are also arguably already in need of revision.
Overall, however, I found it an interesting guide to assessing and improving one's writing style. I believe that many authors (not to mention their patient, long-suffering copyeditors) could benefit considerably from the advice contained within its pages.