July 9, 2007

One of
the seminal days for “Writing Tools” came about a decade ago when I discovered
that an early list of my favorite writing strategies had been translated into
Italian. This pleased me greatly,
especially because my grandfather, Peter Marino, was born near Naples, Italy.

pleased me even more when another Italian journalist, Francesca Pacini,
contacted me recently to conduct an interview for her online media and culture
magazine, Silmarillon. Francesca
explains that “it contains the contributions of Italian bloggers who believe in
independent journalism online, where it is possible to approach things in the
most free way, away from economical or political interests. I work on it at night but don’t
give up! We are small, but we are
free. And this means a lot to me.”

In this
post, you will find a corrected transcript of the interview. Francesca asks the questions about writing
for the Web. I do my best to answer

The Poynter Institute is one of the best journalism schools. How does it approach
the Web, with its citizen journalism and the bloggers’ world? What are
similarities and differences with traditional journalism?

Journalism is a discipline of
verification, not of assertion. You are not a journalist unless you
interact with the world to find things out, and then check things out.
This applies to citizen journalists and bloggers as well. Some of them
are not journalists at all. Others share in the traditional values but
are expressing them in an important new way.

You speak of “epistolary journalism,” which occurs when a reporter quotes
extensively from letters, e-mail messages, instant messages and vocal messages.
What happens now, with the linking offered by the Web?

The ability to link to other
sources is one of the best things about the Web. It’s a form of
intellectual exploration. But you can have too much of a good
thing. I prefer a minimalist approach to linking. That recognizes
the continued value of a linear argument or narrative. In other words, I
want links to help my readers, not drive them away from my words and

In your 50 writing tools, you give suggestions to improve writing skills. How
do they fit when used for the Web writing?

The strategies in my book “Writing
Tools” apply across disciplines and across media platforms. They apply to
journalists, poets, bloggers, propagandists, humorists — all writers who write
with a purpose and strive to make meaning. That does not mean there are
not some tools that are more useful on the Web. For example, people talk
about Web writing as short and efficient, yet, because digital space is
infinite, I see too much overwriting. Writers on the Web would do well to
pay attention to all the tools about economy, clarity, brevity, directness.

At the end of each paragraph it is possible to listen to a podcast. Is
this form enriching traditional writing? How is multimedia changing
the relationship with readers?

We live at an exciting time for the
media, when many old boundaries are being crossed. This does not mean
that old forms are obsolete, only that new forms and hybrid forms are
competing for attention. Multimedia forms — such as narrated slideshows — can be produced with journalistic integrity in the public interest. But
there is also multiple media — print, broadcast, audio, photography — that
continue to inform and inspire us.

What do you think of citizen journalism?

I think it’s a tricky term. It depends on what you mean by citizen and by journalism. We spent most of the 20th century trying to educate journalists in their craft and values so that they would become more responsible — more professional. The Web has made amateurs of us all. There is a good and a bad side to these developments. In a catastrophe, for example, many of the photographic images we see first will come from amateur photographs on the scene. But I’d feel better if there were some professionals — call them editors if you like — to help inform and guide the citizen journalist.

Let’s talk of blog writing. Is the blogger a journalist even if he doesn’t
have a “pedigree”?

Most bloggers are not
journalists. Most do not claim to be. Some bloggers who are
journalists disdain journalists — they don’t want
to be associated with the mainstream media. Blogging — like journalism —
is a term that contains many different forms of expression. The key, as I
said earlier, is whether the blogger finds things out and checks thing
out. Without that, there is no journalism.

Writing is under the influences of new
technologies and a society that asks for brevity, speed, simplicity. The new
century is a challenge for journalists.
What changes will occur in the future?

Anyone who claims to be able to see
the future of technology or journalism is a fool. Look at how many surprises
we have experienced in just the last 10 years. Democracies, to remain
healthy, need informed citizens. Journalists will still provide much of
that information. And human beings need stories to help shape their lives
and their communities. The problem involves the economic model.
What economic model will provide the resources for news organizations to do
their jobs effectively and responsibly? No one knows for sure.

Which of your 50 tools should always be remembered for those who write for the Web?

The nuts and bolts apply across the
board: Put subjects and verbs early in the sentence; prefer active verbs;
order words for emphasis; cut big then small; vary the lengths of
sentences. These have universal application.

Listen to Roy’s new podcast on Writing Tool #28. For all of Roy’s podcasts on Writing Tools, click here.

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Roy Peter Clark has taught writing at Poynter to students of all ages since 1979. He has served the Institute as its first full-time faculty…
Roy Peter Clark

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