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Bruce Grundy on So You Want to be a Journalist?.

A couple of the best journalists in Australia were at Professor Bruce Grundy’s house for the launch of his text book So You Want to be a Journalist?. He mentioned how journalists should be tenacious, and not let politicians get away with the “let’s move on” trick. I asked Bruce Grundy a few questions.

READERSVOICE.COM: Firstly, could you recommend about four or five books, whether fact or fiction, journalism or not, and say a few words about why you liked them?

BRUCE GRUNDY: The books I would recommend are directed at anyone who wants to be either a journalist or who wants to write well. Writing news is not hard … just follow the recipe, the formula. But writing well is not so easy.

These are books that contain a great variety of good writing, which means, because one follows the other, good reading. I mention some of them in my book.

1. The Penguin Book of Columnists (1997), edited by Christopher Sylvester. You may be able to get it only in a library, but it contains probably 150 contributions from some of the very best columnists in the English-speaking world. The range of material and styles is, obviously, vast. A book crammed with good writing.

2. The Best of Rolling Stone: 25 Years of Journalism on the Edge (1993), Doubleday, edited by Robert Love. This is another collection of great writing and great stories. Each contribution is introduced by the writer who explains how the story came to be written. Some of these explanations are as good, and the writing as good, as the stories that follow.

There are some classic pieces here, but you will probably have to go to a library or a second-hand book shop to find a copy. Another book full of good writing and some good journalism too.

3. Gallipoli (2001), Pan Macmillan, written by Les Carlyon. Carlyon has had one of the more extraordinary careers in Australian journalism. Editor of The Age in Melbourne (as I recall at the age of 32, which of itself is amazing since at around that time The Age was recognised as one of the ten best newspapers in the world), editor-in-chief of the Herald and Weekly Times group, journalism award-winner and author of two superlative books … Gallipoli and The Great War.

The extract from the Sydney Morning Herald review on the cover of Gallipoli says it all: Beautifully written … definitive.

4. The world of good writers is well populated by journalists… Defoe (the father of modern journalism); Dickens is still being printed; Hemingway, who it is said once wrote under the pseudonym of Ring Lardner Jr., in recognition of his then favourite writer, Ring Lardner, one of whose classic pieces is contained in the book mentioned at 1 above. Where does one stop?

For writing pictures I could see, which is really the test of a good writer, I liked Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One, for example, and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. That is more than five, but still only a start.

RV: Your book So You Want to be a Journalist?, as the title suggests, is aimed particularly at the beginner. Do you find that journalism is still a popular career choice for school leavers compared to other careers, and is it increasingly popular?

BG: I have been at my university for close to 30 years and we have always had very big enrolments. Not everyone wants to be a journalist. But students match journalism with their other choices and that is a good thing to do. Most journalism skills never hurt anyone. Women have always outnumbered men in our courses and that situation continues. And women were almost always the best reporters on the various newspapers I edited on campus. So, to answer the question, journalism is just as popular a career choice as it ever was. But it isn’t for everyone. Getting a handle on some of the skills involved though, is a good idea for everyone.

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