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WRITING FOR NEWSPAPERS
Small Words - Their Importance - The Anglo-Saxon Element
The newspaper nowadays goes into every home in the land; what was
formerly regarded as a luxury is now looked upon as a necessity. No
matter how poor the individual, he is not too poor to afford a penny to
learn, not alone what is taking place around him in his own immediate
vicinity, but also what is happening in every quarter of the globe. The
laborer on the street can be as well posted on the news of the day as the
banker in his office. Through the newspaper he can feel the pulse of the
country and find whether its vitality is increasing or diminishing; he
can read the signs of the times and scan the political horizon for what
concerns his own interests. The doings of foreign countries are spread
before him and he can see at a glance the occurrences in the remotest
corners of earth. If a fire occurred in London last night he can read
about it at his breakfast table in New York this morning, and probably
get a better account than the Londoners themselves. If a duel takes place
in Paris he can read all about it even before the contestants have left
There are upwards of 3,000 daily newspapers in the United States, more
than 2,000 of which are published in towns containing less than 100,000
inhabitants. In fact, many places of less than 10,000 population can
boast the publishing of a daily newspaper. There are more than 15,000
weeklies published. Some of the so-called country papers wield quite an
influence in their localities, and even outside, and are money-making
agencies for their owners and those connected with them, both by way of
circulation and advertisements.
It is surprising the number of people in this country who make a living
in the newspaper field. Apart from the regular toilers there are thousands
of men and women who make newspaper work a side issue, who add tidy sums
of "pin money" to their incomes by occasional contributions to the daily,
weekly and monthly press. Most of these people are only persons of
ordinary, everyday ability, having just enough education to express
themselves intelligently in writing.
It is a mistake to imagine, as so many do, that an extended education is
necessary for newspaper work. Not at all! On the contrary, in some cases,
a high-class education is a hindrance, not a help in this direction. The
general newspaper does not want learned disquisitions nor philosophical
theses; as its name implies, it wants news, current news, interesting
news, something to appeal to its readers, to arouse them and rivet their
attention. In this respect very often a boy can write a better article
than a college professor. The professor would be apt to use words beyond
the capacity of most of the readers, while the boy, not knowing such
words, would probably simply tell what he saw, how great the damage was,
who were killed or injured, etc., and use language which all would
Of course, there are some brilliant scholars, deeply-read men and women
in the newspaper realm, but, on the whole, those who have made the
greatest names commenced ignorant enough and most of them graduated by
way of the country paper. Some of the leading writers of England and
America at the present time started their literary careers by contributing
to the rural press. They perfected and polished themselves as they went
along until they were able to make names for themselves in universal
If you want to contribute to newspapers or enter the newspaper field as a
means of livelihood, don't let lack of a college or university education
stand in your way. As has been said elsewhere in this book, some of the
greatest masters of English literature were men who had but little
advantage in the way of book learning. Shakespeare, Bunyan, Burns, and
scores of others, who have left their names indelibly inscribed on the
tablets of fame, had little to boast of in the way of book education, but
they had what is popularly known as "horse" sense and a good working
knowledge of the world; in other words, they understood human nature, and
were natural themselves. Shakespeare understood mankind because he was
himself a man; hence he has portrayed the feelings, the emotions, the
passions with a master's touch, delineating the king in his palace as true
to nature as he has done the peasant in his hut. The monitor within his own
breast gave him warning as to what was right and what was wrong, just as
the daemon ever by the side of old Socrates whispered in his ear the course
to pursue under any and all circumstances. Burns guiding the plough
conceived thoughts and clothed them in a language which has never, nor
probably never will be, surpassed by all the learning which art can confer.
These men were natural, and it was the perfection of this naturality that
wreathed their brows with the never-fading laurels of undying fame.
If you would essay to write for the newspaper you must be natural and
express yourself in your accustomed way without putting on airs or
frills; you must not ape ornaments and indulge in bombast or rhodomontade
which stamp a writer as not only superficial but silly. There is no room
for such in the everyday newspaper. It wants facts stated in plain,
unvarnished, unadorned language. True, you should read the best authors
and, as far as possible, imitate their style, but don't try to literally
copy them. Be yourself on every occasion--no one else.
Not like Homer would I write,
Not like Dante if I might,
Not like Shakespeare at his best,
Not like Goethe or the rest,
Like myself, however small,
Like myself, or not at all.
Put yourself in place of the reader and write what will interest yourself
and in such a way that your language will appeal to your own ideas of the
fitness of things. You belong to the great commonplace majority,
therefore don't forget that in writing for the newspapers you are writing
for that majority and not for the learned and aesthetic minority.
Remember you are writing for the man on the street and in the street car,
you want to interest him, to compel him to read what you have to say. He
does not want a display of learning; he wants news about something which
concerns himself, and you must tell it to him in a plain, simple manner
just as you would do if you were face to face with him.
What can you write about? Why about anything that will constitute current
news, some leading event of the day, anything that will appeal to the
readers of the paper to which you wish to submit it. No matter in what
locality you may live, however backward it may be, you can always find
something of genuine human interest to others. If there is no news
happening, write of something that appeals to yourself. We are all
constituted alike, and the chances are that what will interest you will
interest others. Descriptions of adventure are generally acceptable. Tell
of a fox hunt, or a badger hunt, or a bear chase.
If there is any important manufacturing plant in your neighborhood
describe it and, if possible, get photographs, for photography plays a
very important part in the news items of to-day. If a "great" man lives
near you, one whose name is on the tip of every tongue, go and get an
interview with him, obtain his views on the public questions of the day,
describe his home life and his surroundings and how he spends his time.
Try and strike something germane to the moment, something that stands out
prominently in the limelight of the passing show. If a noted personage,
some famous man or woman, is visiting the country, it is a good time to
write up the place from which he or she comes and the record he or she has
made there. For instance, it was opportune to write of Sulu and the little
Pacific archipelago during the Sultan's trip through the country. If an
attempt is made to blow up an American battleship, say, in the harbor of
Appia, in Samoa, it affords a chance to write about Samoa and Robert Louis
Stephenson. When Manuel was hurled from the throne of Portugal it was a
ripe time to write of Portugal and Portuguese affairs. If any great
occurrence is taking place in a foreign country such as the crowning of a
king or the dethronement of a monarch, it is a good time to write up the
history of the country and describe the events leading up to the main
issue. When a particularly savage outbreak occurs amongst wild tribes in
the dependencies, such as a rising of the Manobos in the Philippines, it is
opportune to write of such tribes and their surroundings, and the causes
leading up to the revolt.
Be constantly on the lookout for something that will suit the passing
hour, read the daily papers and probably in some obscure corner you may
find something that will serve you as a foundation for a good article--
something, at least, that will give you a clue.
Be circumspect in your selection of a paper to which to submit your copy.
Know the tone and general import of the paper, its social leanings and
political affiliations, also its religious sentiments, and, in fact, all
the particulars you can regarding it. It would be injudicious for you to
send an article on a prize fight to a religious paper or, vice versa,
an account of a church meeting to the editor of a sporting sheet.
If you get your copy back don't be disappointed nor yet disheartened.
Perseverance counts more in the newspaper field than anywhere else, and
only perseverance wins in the long run. You must become resilient; if you
are pressed down, spring up again. No matter how many rebuffs you may
receive, be not discouraged but call fresh energy to your assistance and
make another stand. If the right stuff is in you it is sure to be
discovered; your light will not remain long hidden under a bushel in the
newspaper domain. If you can deliver the goods editors will soon be
begging you instead of your begging them. Those men are constantly on the
lookout for persons who can make good.
Once you get into print the battle is won, for it will be an incentive to
you to persevere and improve yourself at every turn. Go over everything
you write, cut and slash and prune until you get it into as perfect form
as possible. Eliminate every superfluous word and be careful to strike
out all ambiguous expressions and references.
If you are writing for a weekly paper remember it differs from a daily
one. Weeklies want what will not alone interest the man on the street,
but the woman at the fireside; they want out-of-the-way facts, curious
scraps of lore, personal notes of famous or eccentric people, reminiscences
of exciting experiences, interesting gleanings in life's numberless
by-ways, in short, anything that will entertain, amuse, instruct the home
circle. There is always something occurring in your immediate surroundings,
some curious event or thrilling episode that will furnish you with data
for an article. You must know the nature of the weekly to which you
submit your copy the same as you must know the daily. For instance, the
Christian Herald, while avowedly a religious weekly, treats such secular
matter as makes the paper appeal to all. On its religious side it is
non-sectarian, covering the broad field of Christianity throughout the
world; on its secular side it deals with human events in such an impartial
way that every one, no matter to what class they may belong or to what
creed they may subscribe, can take a living, personal interest.
The monthlies offer another attractive field for the literary aspirant.
Here, again, don't think you must be an university professor to write for a
monthly magazine. Many, indeed most, of the foremost magazine contributors
are men and women who have never passed through a college except by going
in at the front door and emerging from the back one. However, for the most
part, they are individuals of wide experience who know the practical side
of life as distinguished from the theoretical.
The ordinary monthly magazine treats of the leading questions and issues
which are engaging the attention of the world for the moment, great
inventions, great discoveries, whatever is engrossing the popular mind
for the time being, such as flying machines, battleships, sky-scrapers,
the opening of mines, the development of new lands, the political issues,
views of party leaders, character sketches of distinguished personages,
etc. However, before trying your skill for a monthly magazine it would be
well for you to have a good apprenticeship in writing for the daily
Above all things, remember that perseverance is the key that opens the
door of success. Persevere! If you are turned down don't get
disheartened; on the contrary, let the rebuff act as a stimulant to
further effort. Many of the most successful writers of our time have been
turned down again and again. For days and months, and even years, some of
them have hawked their wares from one literary door to another until they
found a purchaser. You may be a great writer in embryo, but you will
never develop into a fetus, not to speak of full maturity, unless you
bring out what is in you. Give yourself a chance to grow and seize upon
everything that will enlarge the scope of your horizon. Keep your eyes
wide open and there is not a moment of the day in which you will not see
something to interest you and in which you may be able to interest
others. Learn, too, how to read Nature's book. There's a lesson in
everything--in the stones, the grass, the trees, the babbling brooks and
the singing birds. Interpret the lesson for yourself, then teach it to
others. Always be in earnest in your writing; go about it in a determined
kind of way, don't be faint-hearted or backward, be brave, be brave, and
evermore be brave.
On the wide, tented field in the battle of life,
With an army of millions before you;
Like a hero of old gird your soul for the strife
And let not the foeman tramp o'er you;
Act, act like a soldier and proudly rush on
The most valiant in Bravery's van,
With keen, flashing sword cut your way to the front
And show to the world you're a Man.
If you are of the masculine gender be a man in all things in the highest
and best acceptation of the word. That is the noblest title you can
boast, higher far than that of earl or duke, emperor or king. In the same
way womanhood is the grandest crown the feminine head can wear. When the
world frowns on you and everything seems to go wrong, possess your soul
in patience and hope for the dawn of a brighter day. It will come. The
sun is always shining behind the darkest clouds. When you get your
manuscripts back again and again, don't despair, nor think the editor
cruel and unkind. He, too, has troubles of his own. Keep up your spirits
until you have made the final test and put your talents to a last analysis,
then if you find you cannot get into print be sure that newspaper writing
or literary work is not your forte, and turn to something else. If
nothing better presents itself, try shoemaking or digging ditches.
Remember honest labor, no matter how humble, is ever dignified. If you
are a woman throw aside the pen, sit down and darn your brother's, your
father's, or your husband's socks, or put on a calico apron, take soap
and water and scrub the floor. No matter who you are do something useful.
That old sophistry about the world owing you a living has been exploded
long ago. The world does not owe you a living, but you owe it servitude,
and if you do not pay the debt you are not serving the purpose of an
all-wise Providence and filling the place for which you were created. It
is for you to serve the world, to make it better, brighter, higher, holier,
grander, nobler, richer, for your having lived in it. This you can do in
no matter what position fortune has cast you, whether it be that of
street laborer or president. Fight the good fight and gain the victory.
"Above all, to thine own self be true,
And 'twill follow as the night the
day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
Next: CHOICE OF WORDS