Literature And Journalism

by Nirmaldasan

Let us consider W.H. Hudson's definition of literature in his Introduction to the Study of Literature.

"Literature is a vital record of what men have seen in life, what they have thought and felt about those aspects of it which have the most immediate and enduring interest for all of us."

If this is literature, then what is journalism? Its definition is just the same except for the adjectives `vital' and `enduring'. But literature need not be a vital record and journalism sometimes is in spite of the celebrated saying "Today's headlines are tomorrow's footnotes". Yet all will agree that the chief difference between literature and journalism is that the former endures. There is something permanent in a literary creation. That is why a seasoned journalist described journalism as the literature of the hour. Yes, "Today's headlines are tomorrow's footnotes." And then we have the Victorian poet Mathew Arnold's definition: "Journalism is literature in a hurry."

The poet has no deadlines to meet. He is a verbal artist and cannot function in a fit of passion. His emotions are recollected in tranquillity. In sharp contrast is the journalist. For him it is a sprint against the clock. He may thank his stars if he gets a chance to revise his copy.

The divide between journalism and literature is mostly due to the nature of the target audience. We don't read a poem the same way we read a news item. We expect the poet to appeal to our imagination and the journalist to give us cold facts. The following poem by A.E. Housman will set things in perspective.

With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.

Those who have read Cleanth Brookes' A Well-wrought Urn will be familiar with the view that a poem cannot be paraphrased. And if you beg to disagree, please go ahead and paraphrase the above poem. You will find that the paraphrase is not the poem. This is because you cannot put your finger on a particular thought and say, "This is what this poem communicates." As P.B. Shelley remarked, all poetry is truly infinite.

The language of poetry, writes Cleanth Brookes, is the language of the paradox. Why it is a paradox is explained in his book and need not concern us. But can the language of journalism be also the language of the paradox? Of course not. Then what is it? The language of poetry and that of journalism have different functions to perform. For a journalist, it is merely a tool to communicate facts. For want of a better word, we shall call the language of journalism `journalese'. And journalese, we may add, need not necessarily be a combination of hackneyed phrases and cliches.

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