Review: The Basics of Media Writing: A Strategic Approach

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Text by Scott Kuehn and Andrew Lingwall offers a coaching approach tailored to its readers

Reviewed by Carol Terracina-Hartman, CMR Managing Editor

“The Basics of Media Writing: A Strategic Approach” takes results from writing faculty surveys, writing student surveys, qualitative interviews with media professionals and adds some classical rhetoric to offer a strategy-based introductory media writing textbook. Research and rhetoric are a tall order for an introductory textbook, especially one that’s  not dry, dated, and completely out of context for the millennial generation. But, authors Scott A. Kuehn and James Andrew Lingwall argue, they are taking aim at a modern medium and updating the methods by which professors teach as they offer strategic writing models for students to follow.

The Basics of Media Writing published by CQ Press Sage Publishing, ISBN 9781506308104.

In short, the authors, both professors of communication at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, crafted a textbook designed to get students thinking strategically about their writing, from approach through to publication.

“Millennials are not approaching writing the same way you and I would,” Lingwall said. “With these three research studies – and the textbooks rooted in the ’80s and ’90s seem so tired. We wanted to punch up content with a [coaching] approach: ‘you can do it.’”

Aiming to cover the basics of media writing to prepare students for the four primary communication media professions (journalism, public relations, advertising, and broadcast), the authors use results from qualitative interviews with professionals to suggest “starting points.”

“The results were ‘use the situation and audience to create the message,’” Lingwall said, adding these consistent messages led to development of the Fact Analysis Judgment Action (FAJA) model of being audience-centered. The aim is to lead students toward the appropriate angle or structure for the news piece.

“It’s rooted in rhetoric – not the Seven Criteria of News Value – situation and speech/message,” Lingwall said. “So the Professional Speech Triangle is a more updated version of that.”

The Professional Speech Triangle model guides students to analyze their audience, the facts of the situation, and above all, the goals of their message as they begin to craft their news story or persuasive piece.

As professors facing eager young news writers, it’s easy to be overwhelmed early in the semester knowing all the topics, tasks, and themes that lie ahead: What to cover first? The seven criteria of news? Ethics of interviewing? Conducting research and preparation before first contact? The authors intend for the book chapters to be used in sequence.

Relevant for most media advisers is a feature not found in many textbooks: a chapter focusing on the writer. Key to this “focus,” says Lingwall, is the Media Writing Self Perception Scale.

“[The scores] indicate for professors how to tailor the course,” he said. This assessment tool asks students questions about how they approach assignments, how soon they begin after receiving the assignment, how they revise, how they feel about receiving feedback, what this confidence level about the writing process is, and more.

“Some of the comments from the [student] survey were ‘The first draft is my last draft,’ and ‘I write whatever comes into my head,’” he said. “Overall, I found students lack a lot of confidence. They lacked strategy.”

Knowing student habits and lack of confidence suggests young writers lack starting points, or a strategy for their writing. And that’s what Kuehn and Lingwall offer in their textbook. Providing two comprehensive writing models, the authors offer students step-by-step strategies for developing ways to analyze their approach to writing.

The design is pretty bare bones: black and white with screens on break-out boxes. A color scheme would be helpful, like presenting the standing features in each chapter with a consistent color to help instructors assign them on syllabi and locate them for students during class.

Each chapter contains a Frontline Media Writing Profile, Pro Strategy Connection, Craft Essential, The War Room, chapter summary, review of key terms, discussion questions, chapter exercises, and additional resources.

“The Basics of Media Writing” gives equal treatment to both news writing and persuasive writing and therefore has a place in many introductory writing courses. With its emphasis on strategy and roots in current classroom-based research, this textbook offers a modern way to teach an old craft.

The book is published by CQ Press Sage Publishing, ISBN 9781506308104.