It is rare that journalism and literature intersect. At first glance, the two fields are too wildly different for reconciliation. Journalism, at its most basic, is a profession dedicated to telling the cold, hard truth. Literature, on the other hand, is essentially an art form, one that employs creativity, imagination and a liberal retelling of the truth — if not completely creating it anew.
This is hardly the exception at Culver City High School, whose two writing-based clubs, journalism and creative writing, are wholly different in constituency and approach — this being despite their shared classroom, advisor and the fact that they’re held on back-to-back days.
Journalism, in my experience, has the much broader appeal of the two. High school students hate writing, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find teenagers actually devoted enough to the craft to sacrifice their lunch period for it. But the novelty of journalism — with its emphasis on reporting and interviewing and the fact that you are actually part of a newspaper — seems to outweigh that aversion.
Part of this stems from the way the club is structured. Students don’t write anything during the actual meetings. That’s left to their own time. Instead, a typical meeting might begin with a call for any new story ideas, which will be assigned to any students who aren’t writing an article at the moment.
After that, the editor-in-chief goes around to talk with each club member to check-in with the article’s progress. It’s a relatively open environment that hardly touches on the writing component of journalism, if not at all.
Creative writing attracts a narrower and eclectic branch of students. Creativity is emphasized here, and so is the ability to go just as much avant-garde as traditional. The result is something of a tight-knit group, one that spends just as much telling jokes and testing out a mock guillotine as writing or sharing their pieces.
Creative writing also has its own structure, at least insofar as that it has no structure. Students can write, if they want, and they can share what they wrote if they want. This environment, though chaotic, does lend itself to just the sort of originality necessary for story creation. Although it does fail to do one thing: attract new students.
This is no fault of the actual club or its leadership. Even journalism, for all its appeal, ends up with only half the original number of members it started with. For high school students, it seems, devoting that much time to literary pursuits is simply too difficult.
I mention both of these clubs, and more specifically their differences because I believe they are a useful proxy for discussion of these two fields: journalism and literature.
Emissaries between these two styles are hardly unheard of. Hemingway is, of course, a prime example. His straightforward style, iceberg theory and all, revolutionized literature. But Hemingway is an example of a journalist-turned-author.
What about the other way around?
The advent of electronic media has paved the way for a new form of journalism: the long-form article, which previously existed only in magazines such as The Atlantic or Reader’s Digest. This new journalism is distinctive in its use of elements of realistic fiction to tell long stories: quotation in the form of conversation, setting and sensory details.
In many ways, it is an extension of the style of Truman Capote, who in In Cold Blood was able to so richly — and to a more debatable degree, accurately — describe the murder of the Clutter family by that duo of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.
It’s this exchange that I’m more fascinated by because it stretches the very limits of what journalism is supposed to be. Journalism is bare-bones; it is factual. It is not supposed to be long, or creative.
But why can’t it?
In journalism, we call articles “stories,” and indeed this is what they are, particularly in investigative journalism. The only difference between, say, creative nonfiction and journalism is the way in which the story is told. And in many ways, telling the story as it really is — a story, not a barely-held together collection of facts — can help better communicate the truth, that sacred idol of journalists everywhere.
Why can’t, indeed, the journalism club and creative writing club exchange ideas and styles? Both sides have much to take from each other.
From creative writing, journalism club can take its focus on the private, human element. The little things that remind readers that what they are reading is the story of another human being, rather than a complete stranger.
From journalism, creative writing club can take its focus on the truth, distilled as it is. It is no secret that authors and poets are enamored with adjectives and adverbs, and all the different ways a sentence can be made twenty times longer than it has to be.
Sometimes, this embellishment comes at the expense of the story, or the poem, or the essay’s focus. And while I acknowledge the wide variety of styles present in literature sometimes it is useful for writers to remember what it is for that they are truly writing. It was in finding the answer to this question that I experienced the most growth as a poet, after all. Writers should always strive for the truth, whether that truth is made-up or not.
Besides, at least at Culver City High School, both of these fields have the same problem anyway: attracting new students. Maybe this exchange can allow for greater cooperation between the two.
More than that, maybe it can herald in a new age for writing: one in which the truth is redefined as true story, and is held more sacred than ever.