Sunday, October 13, 2013

Analyzing the Art of Journalism

  When contemplating Eleanor Roosevelt, the first thoughts to appear in one’s mind most likely revolve around her involvement in American political history. Her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, led the nation through the Great Depression and World War II, gaining recognition for public service program advocacy, while Eleanor performed her First Lady duties. What many are not aware of, however, is Eleanor’s competency as a skilled journalist in her time. “Recent Directions for the Study of Women’s History in American Journalism,” an article written by Maurine Beasley of the University of Maryland, seeks to bring awareness to the struggle and history of female American journalists, who have characteristically experienced adversity in the press world.
            This article, written at the seventeenth grade level, is laden with official style language. While much of the article includes long lists discussing the names and accomplishments of women journalists, it also brings in a methodical, scholarly perspective as it explores the influence of these women in media publication history. For example, one argument that Beasley expresses indicates women have not been given adequate recognition for their writing. Beasley probably encounters at least some level of support for this theory, considering that her article was published in a periodical called Journalism Studies. After some research, I discovered that Journalism Studies forms a branch of the Taylor & Francis Group, an international organization that distributes academic journals as well as books. It appears to send out physical copies of its journals, though the examples I found were online versions. The entirety of the Taylor & Francis association puts off a very educational, professional vibe, which is characteristic of academic journals. Thus, I concluded that Journalism Studies has a limited readership stemming from those interested in written communications.
            Reading this article gave me a slight feeling of inferiority, almost belittlement, which is ironic concerning its context. Beasley uses lofty language to solidify her authority over the reader, employing such examples as “pursued in various stages of conceptualization,” and “fit into the compensatory and contribution categories” (Beasley 210, 211)  almost in an effort to confuse her reader, or perhaps weed out those who would not be able to comprehend the text. Granted, Beasley has to be held to this standard as an academic writer. If she chose to write in a simple manner, her work probably would not be published in Journalism Studies. The complex level of writing Beasley engages in is not explicitly her choice, but rather one that society has established for academic writing. As a female journalist myself, I found it irritating to have to sift through Beasley’s flowery word choice and patronizing tone to simply get the “meat” out of the article. Several of her ideas were repeated with altered sentence structure or different words. Repetitive phrasing is characteristic of the official style, but one would imagine that a journalist writing about journalism would pick up on her own prose style more adeptly than someone who has not chosen a career that requires extensive writing.
            This sentence in particular stood out as I read through Beasley’s article: “These three approaches cover family-oriented studies that take in the personal as well as the professional, inquiry into journalistic networking along gender lines, and narratives that emphasize the emergence of women’s voices” (Beasley 208). The sentence following it reads: “In short, they call for looking at women in journalism through a wider lens than previously has been used” (Beasley 208). In the first sentence, several official style examples can be noticed. Beasley prevalently employs euphemism with such expressions as “journalistic networking” and “family-oriented studies.” She draws out sentences with complicated phrasing and verbosity that exasperates the reader. In fact, she even includes a second sentence to sum up the point of the first sentence, which appears almost comical to the reader. Beasley realizes that her manner of writing could confuse her audience, but instead of modifying the initial sentence to make more sense, she adds a second sentence to clear up her mucky vocabulary.
            On the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease scale, “Recent Directions” scored a smooth 25, indicating its complexity. It surprised me to learn that this article exercised an average of 29 words per sentence, as it seemed to utilize more elaborate words frequently in its lengthy sentences. Passivity cast a shadow over the whole of the article, directing verb style in an official mode. Several times, I caught myself having to re-read entire paragraphs, simply because they are written so stuffily. Below is another example of the euphemistic language and overly complex sentence structure conveyed throughout Beasley’s article, seeming to give an elevated edge to her manner of speech.

            “According to Lerner (1979), the compensatory stage represented the identification of women previously omitted from standard historical accounts. Moving beyond it, Lerner described the contribution stage as the evaluation of women’s achievements in a male-dominated world, the transition stage as the reworking of various historical categorizations from women’s perspectives, and the synthesis stage as the integration of the history of men and women’s experience” (Beasley, 210).

            Long lists in sentences such as the second one made it difficult for me to work my way through the article, though Beasley has accurately created an official piece for her activity system. If fellow journalists are going to be reading ”Recent Directions,” they will most likely be accustomed to formal language and having to work through extended sentence structure. Most of them will not experience the same exasperation I did as I was reading through Beasley’s article, since they probably write like her. The norm for her community is that writing must be official and professional. A journalist’s motive is to inform, and Beasley does accomplish her goal of doling out information to her audience. Maybe a more accurate motive for Beasley, given her activity system, is to establish a sense of credibility. Beasley knows that Journalism Studies expects her to write academically, and without using jargon typical of  the official style, she cannot accomplish this task. She could have easily kept her sentences short and plain, but that would not have served her readership in the way it must to maintain the academic standard.

            The plight of the female journalist seems to be an interesting topic, one that I find personally appealing and others may as well. However, Beasley’s ornate language and dramatically lengthy sentences took away from her message: women in journalism deserve more recognition. By choosing to take a superior stance over the reader and create a confusing effect throughout the article, Beasley enshrouded her true purpose for the piece and frustrated my efforts to understand her perspective fully. After reading this article, I am not so sure that Eleanor Roosevelt would feel proud to have paved the way for this type of journalism. Perhaps academic journalism as a whole needs to change its tune and broaden its appeal so the common person can understand the important issues discussed within the bindings of the official style. 

By D.M. Cook

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