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Literature and Journalism Essay

American Heritage Dictionary of English Language Fourth Edition. New York Houghton 2009. American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy Third edition New York Houghton Mifflin Co. 2006 Glencoe Literature; The Readers Choice Columbus Glencoe/McGraw-Hill 2003 Hudson,W. H An Introduction to the Study of Literature. Harrap 1963 Ousby, I. Cambridge Guide to Literature in English Cambridge Cambridge University Press 1996. Hornsby, A. S. Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current English. OUP 2005 MASENO UNIVERSITY FACULTY : ARTS AND SOCIAL SCIENCES.

DEPARTMENT : LINGUISTICS, LANGUAGES AND LITERATURE UNIT CODE: ALI 805 UNIT TITLE: LITERATURE AND JOURNALISM TASK: Difference between Literature and Journalism PRESENTED BY: JULIE E. OGONYA REG. NO. : PG/MA/063/2009 PRESENTED TO: DR, KITCHE MAGAK DATE: NOVEMBER, 2009. MASENO INTRODUCTION Literature and journalism are two genres that are interrelated and intertwined because literature borrows heavily from journalism and journalism borrows heavily from literature as well. Sometimes it gets problematic distinguishing literature from journalism, more so with the emergence of narrative journalism.

According to Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, literature refers to pieces of writing that are valued as works of art, especially novels, plays and poems (in contrast to technical books and newspapers, magazines, etc. ). The same dictionary defines journalism as the work of collecting and writing news stories for newspapers, magazines, radio or television. In this paper, an attempt is going to be made to show the differences between literature and journalism. Differences between Literature and Journalism.

The difference between literature and journalism can be seen from the definitions of the two genres where literature is defined as “pieces of writing that are valued as works of art”. Art refers to “the use of imagination to express ideas or feelings” (Hornby, 2005). The key word is imagination. This means that in literature, language is used creatively with a lot of imagination in expressing ideas. Literature has been described as a mirror of the society and it reflects the happenings in that society. The reflections more often than not depend on the type of the mirror, whether concave or convex.

Consequently, literature can distort reality. Journalism, “the work of collecting and writing news stories for newspapers, magazines, radio or television”, on the other hand, is a picture of the society. What we see is what we get since journalism is reportage. Mikkel Hivid has provided some guidelines on the difference between journalism and literature. In this paper most of the differences used will be from a paper he presented entitled Fiction, Facts and Storytelling and Roy Peter Clarke’s essay : Between Fact and Fiction: Navigating Treacherorous Waters.

First, Hvid says that “the difference between literature and journalism is characterized by more than just the difference between fact and fiction. The two genres have different expressions, different criteria for the truth and relevance and different priorities. Journalism must be true but writers of fiction are allowed to lie”. In literature, the diction is characterized by the use of literary techniques like imagery, personification, irony, juxtaposition, sarcasm, similes and so on. These are used to make the message being communicated to be brought out more effectively.

The language or expressions used will depend on the writer’s attitude towards the subject with which he will attempt to influence the reader; if he hates the subject, he will be sarcastic and the words he uses will be sarcastic or derogatory. This unflattering choice of words is likely to influence the reader to develop a negative attitude towards a subject too. For example, in Achebe’s book The Trouble with Nigeria, he is strongly convinced that the main problem with the country is poor leadership. He uses very emotive words. He says; The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.

There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. He uses literary techniques like alliteration (simply and squarely), and repetition of the word wrong to create emphasis. Clarke says that literature and journalism have different criteria for the truth. The ethics of journalism indicate that the main distinction between literature and journalism is based on the contents. Journalists must present facts- whether they are using the genre of narrative journalism or any other journalistic genre.

Journalists are required to research their stories (Hvid, 2000). Journalism must be true whereas writers of literature are allowed to lie. What the journalist writes must be true in the sense that it can be documented by reference to a named source or actual circumstances. For instance what Barrack Obama wrote in Dreams from My Father is true and can be documented. It is a story about his life; the places and even people mentioned in the book are real. Fiction writers invent and make up stories. Literature does not have to be true to any outside reality, Hvid adds.

In literature, the setting, characters, events and action are all in the writer’s imagination in as much as they may reflect reality. Sometimes the setting and characters can be out of this world, for example in stories of fantasy that involves the mention of the supernatural as well as in science fiction. Journalists must research their stories. Writers of fiction are allowed to add, invent and construct their own worlds. In his essay, Roy Peter Clarke lists a range of ethical demands on the narrative journalist. You cannot add anything to your story which was not present in reality.

This is because only the truth should be told in journalism. He adds that you cannot write different scenes into one, and you are not allowed to merge a number of real characters into one. You must respect the timing of real events. This is in line with the 5ws of journalism of who, what, where, why, when and how. All these must come out distinctly because journalism is fact and not fiction. In fiction, a character or a thing can be an archetype. There can only be one scene of an incident and hence cannot be written into one.

He says that finally there is the ethical demand which is perhaps the most important even if it sounds mainly as a kind of request: you must strive to provide as honest and correct an account of the reality of the reality you describe as possible. Literary texts can be interpreted in a number of different ways. This is because when different readers read a text, their understanding is not the same and sometimes the writer’s intention may be missed. For instance, in Jonathan Swift’s essay: A Modest Proposal, the writer, did not intend his proposal of rearing babies for food to be taken literally.

Some of his readers were very outraged at the idea of infanticide and cannibalism. Literature as a body consists of three main components (literary history): 1) A body of knowledge 2) A system of investigation 3) A collection of skills and techniques. It also consists of four main aspects 1) Creativity 2) Practical criticism 3) Literary history 4) Literary theory. There are different theories used to interpret literature. These components and theories are used by literary analysts to interpret literary texts. In journalism, the text does not necessarily require such effort in interpretation.

A message in journalism quite often appears in the first paragraph of the text where the journalist makes the logical conclusion. The message is direct with no room for interpretation. Literature and journalism have different ideas about their readers about their readers and what you can demand from them. Journalism presents readers with a complete package they can immediately relate to. For instance, a newspaper headlines simply stating: Jealous Man Murders Wife and Lover in Drunken Rage. This does not require any knowledge of literary criticism and theory to understand that drunken jealous men can easily murder their wives.

Literature readers, on the other hand, have to interpret and analyse the text to find what it means for them. This is sometimes a next to impossible task as some literary texts abound in symbolism and very abstract ideas that are too difficult to decipher. In journalism it is unacceptable to present readers with such a dilemma as readers have a right to demand a clear message. Relevance of the text is another area of difference in literature and journalism as there are different criteria used to determine relevance in the two genres.

We read literature to experience other worlds, lives and people. For example, David Yallop’s book In God’s Name is an eye opener into the intrigues of the Catholic Church and how a pope was murdered because he was a threat to some bishops who were perpetrators of a lot of evil in the church. The relevance of that text comes in when we examine it we find that the murder of Pope really concerned the people at that particular time in history and even to date. We read literature to experience other worlds, lives, and people. We mirror our own lives in those of the characters we meet in literature.

Plato said that literature is a moral force and so the characters in literature with which we compare our own experiences help in building our character since as we compare our own experiences to theirs we gain greater insights into our own lives through what we call experience by. We love the character who is our hero and when that character suffers, we suffer with him and when he triumphs over evil, we celebrate his victory. Every character or happening helps us learn about our own lives. The text is true when it is true and meaningful to us.

Truth and relevance are decided in the meeting between the reader and the text In journalism, we do not read texts in order to mirror our lives with those we read about. The characters do not necessarily help us learn about our own lives. Sometimes there are no main character with which we identify with. Truth is a condition of journalism and the article must be relevant. Its relevance is seen when it teaches the readers something new and important about the world they live in. When we read a literary text, we become part of the story; we take sides, laud or condemn a particular character.

In other words, we read literature for experience. As Aristotle recommended, literature provides the reader with a cathartic effect. After experiencing literature, there is purgation of dangerous emotions. On the other hand, we read journalism to take something out of it. This is why journalistic articles are “news”. We get information from journalism. In literature, stories comprise of two main elements; background and action. There is use of description of background that is spiced up with action. In journalism, storytelling is told with three strands.

These are background, action and facts as a mandatory component. The journalist may add anecdotes to make his story interesting but the most important ingredient is fact. Lastly, there is the use of what has been referred to as the frame and the content. Creative techniques are used on the frame of the story or in the introduction that leads into the main story whilst the story itself is presented as summary or direct quotes. Barrack Obama’s Dreams from my Father is a typical example of a work where this is used. This is sometimes referred to as the inverted pyramid .


In this paper, the differences between Literature and Journalism have been discussed. It has been realized that the differences between literature and journalism arise because of many factors like fact or fiction, reality and probability, the relationship between the reader and the text, the roles of journalism and literature and so on. Whereas the two genres are infact different, the reality is that there is a possibility of te two complimenting and supplementing each other since literature borrows from journalism and journalism borrows from literature and this results in a rich mix.

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