Journalism was my major in college. However, I knew from the beginning that I did not want to be a reporter. I can say that by choosing this as my education path, I learned a lot about writing … of all kinds … feature, editorial, news writing. Each requires different approaches to accomplish the end result of a published article.
Writing has been a huge part of my career in public relations. I am often asked by new PR grads what the number one skill needed to be successful in our field is; my answer is an unequivocal “writing”. For those of you not familiar with writing styles, here’s a quick primer. News writing focuses on the five W’s and the H … who, what, when, where, why and how. Just the facts, ma’am … nothing more. This is also known as the inverted pyramid. The most important information is found at the top and readers can leave the article at any point … yet still completely understand the message.
In contrast, feature writing is a different animal. Feature stories differ from straight news in several ways. Most importantly is the absence of a straight-news lead. Instead of offering the essence of a story up front, feature writers choose to lure readers in gradually. A feature’s first paragraphs often relate an intriguing moment or event. From the particulars of a person or episode, the story’s view quickly broadens to generalities about the subject.
As I write this, I’ve been thinking back to my college days when I attempted (unsuccessfully for the most part) to be a full-time freelance writer. I wasn’t shooting for the Glamours and New York Times of the world. Rather, I focused on local publications such as such as the Minneapolis / St. Paul Magazine. I had been told that the key is to have a hook, and I had just the hook – A Texas native leaving the warmth and sun to move 1,000 miles away in the cold, snow-bound state of Minnesota. What could be more entertaining than to read about my exploits experiencing 80 below zero temperatures for the first time, my roommate choosing to thaw her car windows with a bucket of warm water, or the first time I saw someone plug their car into an outlet to ensure it started. My article was humorous and more than a little self-deprecating as I made complete fun of myself. Now, remember that space is a premium in most publications. While the editor liked my article … at least that’s what he told me … his critique included a bunch of red marks.
Oh how I learned to hate that red ink pen.
I got over it.
Editing is part of the writing process and critically important for any good PR professional to understand and appreciate.
I’m curious though what other people think is the most important skill for PR professionals to have in their toolkit. There are many but what is that one trait that everyone should have?
Images from Flickr.com (Dabaweyna, Esther_G)