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The Value of a Writing Experience

A popular style of memo pad in offices across the country carries the command “Write it—don’t say it!” Doubting Thomases around the world voice their suspicions with “I’ll believe it when I see it in black and white!” In order to save time, many business transactions are completed by telephone, yet the final exchange is usually, “We’ll confirm this with a letter.”

What is it about the written word that gives it such prominence over conversation? Why must other forms of communication be verified by writing?

And what has all this to do with growing in Christian conduct?

Chief of the several factors which contribute to the preeminence of written communications over verbal is the relative consistency of writing.  Even a hastily scrawled note tells the same story a century later as it did the moment it was written, while each person’s conversation is subject to change from hour to hour.  There are often as many variations of a verbal agreement as there were witnesses to it, but a written contract is so binding that no thinking person signs one without being certain of the “fine print.”

This permanence of writing, plus the multiplication of its effect through publication, demands that those who follow a writing trade be skilled in the art, or suffer the public consequences reserved for those inept persons who rush into print without adequate preparation.  Solomon said it poetically: “Discretion shall preserve thee.”

It is regarding this preparation for the writing professions or trades which the Staff of Beacon Lights asked me to prepare this article under the above title. Many careers make use of backgrounds similar to that demanded by journalism but in the interest of making a long article not too much longer, only a few areas of development will be covered.

1. Broad General Background

In contrast to a strong trend in both educational and industrial fields, those who would follow journalism are urged to accumulate as wide a body of knowledge as possible and to continue to develop this throughout life.  A young writer is expected to have general acquaintance with virtually every major division of philosophy, science, and art.  Any areas missing from his formal education should be part of his continued education or private reading.  Centuries ago Solomon presented similar instruction in many verses such as “Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom.”

2. Highly Developed Sense of Curiosity

Coupled with the broad background should be an intense, childlike, sense of curiosity.  Books on every subject from the training of turtle doves to studies of remote religions; from Syrian cooking to medieval mining methods provide the raw materials for this hungry mind.

This appetite for varied information is also reflected in the young journalist’s choice of activites.  Taking a slice of hundreds of activities, he will attempt to bake French pastries, will try flying, hitch-hiking across several states or perhaps Europe, will find himself visiting factories, mines, slums, schools, jails, and trying his hand at several occupations just to gain the experience.  The impressions from all these experiences are stored away against the occasion when it will suddenly prove valuable in the preparation of a news story either by providing direct information or by alerting the writer that there is more to this subject than he actually knows and the less he says about it the better.

King Solomon also possessed this sense of curiosity and wrote in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, “And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven.”

3. Analytical Observation

A young writer must not be misled by superficial appearances.  During the first few months in his chosen career, he is apt to “have his eyes opened” most dramatically.  Many events have a way of being something other than their commonly accepted image.  For example, a “Spontaneous public uprising” against an official in office, is usually planned months in advance and all participants wait poised for action until some particular incident occurs which will be sufficiently controversial to sway the unsuspecting public.  The cub reporter finds that so-called “juicy” trials which seem to appeal to the public’s sadistic imagination are anything but pleasant, and after fighting with his stomach during the first such closed trial, he is most content to obtain his information from the court records.  All through Scripture sin is portrayed as being repulsive and ugly, and the young reporter very soon learns the truth of this.  He soon learns to think like the Church at Ephesus, who was praised in Revelation 2 for not accepting everything at its face value, until they had examined it carefully.

4. Self Supervising

A reporter must often project himself into the heady confusion of emergencies where there are no rules and no supervision to make decisions nor to prod into productivity.  Those who return to the editorial office with insufficient material for the news story due to the lack of direction on the job are called “unemployed.”

Saint Paul put it in fewer words in his letter to the Colossians: “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh;… And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord…”

5. Willingness to Accept Correction

Every word of copy from the reporter’s typewriter faces the very real peril of the editor’s blue pencil.  The pressure of the rapidly approaching deadline allows not ime for ego-saving conferences between editor and writer.  A poorly written story is returned with a curt note: “Lousy copy, re-write.” Those who can take it grow in both skill and in determination to improve.  King Solomon had quite a few comments about accepting criticism (or not accepting it), “Give instruction to a wise man and he will be yet wiser” and a few verses later: “He that hateth reproof is brutish.”

Obviously there are many additional facets in the training of journalists.  The few examples here with the accompanying Scripture reference tell a story often overlooked when we prepare or help other prepare for a career—and although crusty editors across the country will deny it, the basic qualities they look for in beginning reporters have been found in the standards of Scripture for centuries.  Conversely, young people who consciously follow the teachings of Scripture in regard to character building, will find themselves in demand regardless of their chosen profession or trade.