Writing tips from a newspaper columnist

For new writers, adopting a journalistic style can be difficult. Craig Wilson, a columnist at USA Today, shared tips with high school students and laid out what he believes are the most common mistakes of journalism.

According to Wilson, author of the Final Word column, one problem for young writers is having a voice without using opinion. Having a voice should ideally mean that readers are able to identify who writes a column even if there is no byline or photo attached.   Voice is more attitude than opinion.

Another problem Wilson cited was aspiring journalists expecting to start off at the top. He said they should be willing to take entry-level positions and work their way up. At small workplaces there is more opportunity to learn everything and that is not always available at larger news outlets, he said.

Another roadblock is simply finding ideas for articles. Wilson said that knowing what readers will gravitate toward is difficult, especially at first. But columnists eventually learn what their audiences enjoy. Even so, he said that even for his column, he sometimes still doesn’t know exactly which stories will become popular — it can sometimes come down to luck.

Wilson advised students to be visible on social media to make connections and to promote their work. Wilson said he generally accepts all Facebook friend requests.  He posts his stories through Facebook and Twitter.

Wilson said a large obstacle for new writers is story organization. He suggested that writers pull out the best quotes and organize the story from most important information to least important.

Juliet Kapanjie, a Discover the World of Communication student, said she experiences some of these problems in her writing.

“I have problems coming up with story ideas and putting them into action,” Kapanjie said.  “My goal is to fix my problems and go from there.”