Like he said, our writing sucks

jeremy2.gifIn a thought-provoking essay defending the “traditional” news release, PR blogger Jeremy Pepper gets to the heart of it somewhere around mid-post.

The press release isn’t broken. PR people nowadays just can’t write for shit. Hell, some of the PR bloggers can’t write for shit, but at least by blogging, they should be getting better at writing (maybe not grammar and punctuation, but at least concise writing).

Jeremy’s post is part of the ongoing discussion about the social media news release and its place in PR practice. With all the buzz about social media and their impact on the business, it’s easy to lose sight of the core skill we all need to use any medium effectively: We must write well.

For more discussion about the SMR topic, check Shel Holtz (whose link I followed to Pepper) and Stowe Boyd. Would also suggest you check Edelman’s SMR about the latest “Trust Barometer.”

Update: Catching up on my reading tonight (1/25), I found one more interesting take on the news release vs. SMR from Shel Israel.

SMRs have the potential to serve audiences beyond mainstream media, and I’m really intrigued by them. But Jeremy’s point is right on. There are times when it’s just too much, times when a simple news release will do.

I’m pleased to teach in a program with a strong social-media focus, but one in which writing is still the core skill in every course we offer. I hope we don’t lose that focus amid all the digital gizmos coming at us.

8 Responses to Like he said, our writing sucks

  1. Brian Wooley says:

    Amusing that Pepper laments the dearth of concise writing–in the sixth or so paragraph of his post.

  2. Andy Curran says:

    The average writer does not know how to “write for the ear”. James J. Kilpatrick has writeen a few columns on this subject. Too many writers ramble on, clunking up their sentences with disjointed phrases and clauses. A sportswriter for the Cincinnati Post, who shall remain nameless, is in love with the dash. A typical sentence in his column reads like this: “Joe Blow played ball at State University – his future wife, Bernice also matriculated there – until the pain in his elbow forced him to quit”. How can anyone understand sentences like that?

    Because I am from the broadcast world, I was trained to do write for the listener or viewer. Even as I write this post, I compose the message as if it was being broadcast on the radio or TV.

    Another reason for poor writing is that a surprising number of people don’t know SIMPLE grammar rules. I’m talking third grade stuff. I get more than enough emails from students and colleagues that make me want to pull my hair out. For example, “If your going to teach this course, when will it be”? “If you don’t apply for this grant by Dec. 31, you will loose your chance until next year”. “The students and their advisor is having a meeting about this tomorrow”. If you don’t see the mistakes in those examples, please strongly consider a career change.

    I could go on about how public high schools need to focus more on writing, but I think we all know that.

    Today’s students are obsessed with text messsaging, which doesn’t bode well for the future of writing. Those bad spelling habits are bound to creep in to their papers before long. U-no what I meen?

  3. Andy Curran says:

    In the second paragraph of the previous post, the corrected sentence should read: ” I was trained to write…”

    WordPress really needs to let people edit their own posts so these mistakes can be corrected.

  4. Andrew,

    I actually have an “edit” button on my end, but that’s against the “rules” of blogging. Sadly, few other folks care about mistakes in posts, much less in comments. It’s not gotten as bad as text messaging, but lotsa typos in blogland. Some writers believe the miscues actually add to the authenticity of a post. To that I say, pshaw.

    Breeze,

    I did note that Jeremy’s post wasn’t the most tightly written. But his point was one I wanted my students to see, as a bunch of them have tuned in since the new semester began. He’s also ron point with the SMR.

    I’m also not bold enough to use the word “shit” twice in a paragraph, but hey, I was quoting a guy with way, way more readers than I. Of course, it’s OK in curse incomments, when it’s just us guys!

  5. Andy Curran says:

    Then someone needs to change the rules of blogging. When composing a message, a writer often makes changes on the fly, and it’s easy to forget to take out a word or correct a misssssspelllllling (sic) until after the message is submitted. Editing is also a convenient feature to have if some facts or links need to be added or changed. In some of my posts, I meant to add links to make it more dynamic, but I forgot. In fact, I just caught another typo in my original post. In the second line, I spelled “written” as “writeen”.

    By not allowing edits, bloggers and posters can come across as illiterate, when some of them are not.

    Rules can and should be changed to better a situation. Some of us old-timers remember when the goalposts had two pillars and were on the goal line in the old NFL. After a few split ends, as they were called before they morphed into wide receivers, unceremoniously crashed full speed into those behemoths, the league decided to make them less obtrusive to the field of play.

    Crud, do I now have to jump into this cesspool and write my own blog to get these rules changed? Say it ain’t so!

  6. Agreed. The “no edit after the post” rule is one of the affectations of the blogosphere in my opinion. Writing on the fly is gonna result in careless, often embarrassing errors. I see no harm in fixing typos after the post, AND leaving no evidence of the change.

    But in defense of the bloggers, their overall concern is that you’ll come back and change the meaning or nuance of a post or, worse yet, take it down completely. Doing so violates the whole idea of the “conversation” that blogging is built on.

    Shel Israel had a “post-post” regret a few weeks back. In the follow-up, he apologizes to the guy he criticized (Steve Rubel), and laments not being able to delete the post. But he follows the rules.

    I felt for him, but Shel’s fallibility is, in part, what makes him such a good blogger. In his book, he insists that typos and grammar errors in posts make them more real, ergo, more believeable. Sorry, Shel, but I ain’t goin’ that far. Can’t. Just can’t. I care too much about the language that’s put bread on my table for 30+ years.

    For you and me, there’s one more problem: How do we tell our students that precise writing matters in one context but not the other? You likely have more of these kids than I. You know, the ones who send emails in all lower-case letters and riddled with mechanical errors.

    Most (if not all) blogging software allows slash-through edits (just as MS Word does ). The feature enables the blogger make changes, but it shows ( as slash-through copy) what you delete. It looks like crap, which rankles communication professionals like you and me. But the hardcores will say we’re way too hung up on appearance, and that we need to concentrate on essence. Point taken. Just can’t do it.

    Here’s the link to Shel’s post if you want to check it out:

    http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/2006/12/sorry_steve_its.html

    Update: Andrew…I felt absolutely compelled to jump back in an correct my spelling of “rankles” (vs. wrankles). Can’t help it. You know, man, we are cut from the same friggin’ cloth!

  7. Les Potter says:

    I am afraid to say I see the same thing — students who wish to major in PR, advertising, or IMC, but come to us with very poor preparation in using the English language. My best friend, Consultant Robert Holland, and I talk about this all the time. In fact, he just posted some excellent comments about this very subject on my blog.

    In my PR Writing classes, I do not try to teach grammar. I cannot correct the ills and omissions that have come before. I am merciless on grading, using a detailed assessment “rubric” that shows students exactly what points are lost for what types of errors. I refer them to any number of sources to learn proper mechanics of the language. I have included a wonderful guidebook in my course Blackboard site that is easily accessible to students. And there are always English courses taught here!

  8. We also don’t try to teach grammar or usage in PR classes, but by that time we get them, our students have been through a basic Media Writing course (freshman or early sophomore) that is heavy on mechanics. Our English Department isn’t real keen on teaching grammar, either. Which is why we do it early on in the J-School.

    We’re also experimenting with special English I and II classes tailored to our majors and taught by an English scholar with PR AND reporting experience. These classes have a bit more emphasis on writing, a bit less on literature. They also do mechanics.

    Being part of a J-school, we have tap the resources our friends from the fourth estate. Among the benefit — clear, concise writing, AP Style, reporting and info-gathering, inverted pyramid, etc.

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