The creative-objective dichotomy is a lie

It’s that time of year when students hit a fork in the road.


They must decide which of two concentrations: Reporting or Strategic Communication. That decision dictates which course they take in the Spring semester. When course scheduling time rolls around, a portion of my students hang back after class or show up in my office asking which direction to take.

I want them to choose the one they will most enjoy and the one that will be most beneficial to their careers.  I honestly don’t favor one choice over another. Only one answer gets me riled:

“I’m taking the strat comm track because I’m creative.”

Ugg. I really don’t know where this notion was born. But, I’ll blame Man Men. Jon Hamm, darn you.

When I ask students, they generally report they were great at a creative writing course in high school, and everything we’ve done in class has seemed so…. “formulaic.” They complain they are constrained by concept of objectivity, the patterns of story structures, and the conventions of journalistic writing.

But, I don’t understand why they feel strat comm assignments are more creative. News releases and summaries of survey results hardly seem more mind-freeing than feature stories and interactive data visualizations.

Careers in media buying don’t seem more creative than ones in news app development.

I too was awesome in my high school creative writing courses. I still have the Post-It note on which my teacher wrote “You WILL be a published author someday.”

The thought, though, of going off to a solitary pondside house to write sounded more like a punishment for eating all the cookies than a promising start to fame and fortune.

In journalism, I found a career at the apex of excitement and creativity.

I felt my creativity flowing when I wrote feature stories like King For a Final Day, and when I took complicated dry topics and made them understandable to the people to which it mattered. I got to be expressive when designing news pages for an afternoon tabloid. I was stretching the bounds of my imagination when I went to my hundredth community parade and still found a way to tell an interesting story.

The creativity-objectivity dichotomy is a lie.

So, choose wisely, my friends. Pick the path at this fork that leads  your own Golden Pond. Just don’t pick based on misconceived ideas of creativity.


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