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Writing for Periodicals: Style over Substance?

Updated on September 22, 2011

Because crosswords and star signs are serious business (tongue-in-cheek).

I am not much of a journalist - rather, I am an essayist. However, one does not have to be a journalist to know when certain articles, columns, or features in the newspaper (whether online or in print) are not quite what they should be. Journalism has set format rules, which I do not claim to understand but respect nonetheless. Even so, certain sections are not quite up to par with the rest in the periodicals that carry them, perhaps because they are not as vital as the real news articles. Specifically, these novelty items include crossword puzzles and astrological "reports."

It seems to me that crossword puzzles and horoscopes do somewhat the opposite of what they should do, which is more likely what the other one should be doing. For instance, crossword puzzles have become more difficult when the clues are at their most cryptic - or part of a joke or punchline that is either unfunny or something only the puzzle's creator understands. These have grown both stale and frustrating with time because of the vague and uncertain nature of their meaning. Horoscopes, on the other hand, are far too specific. While horoscope forecasts are supposed to apply to anyone, they have become more domineering in their instructions and what they expect people to actually do on a given day. They always say things that make it sound like something earth-shattering is expected to happen, but if you do the same things every Sunday (such as watching NASCAR and drinking beer, let's say), the instructions aren't going to make sense or apply to you, let alone everyone on a broad spectrum.

Furthermore, horoscopes are meant to tell you more about yourself (on some small level at least - there are many defining attributes to human beings, either working in collaboration or vying for supremacy). No one, not any so-called astrologer or even an advice columnist (unless you ask them directly), has the right to tell you what you should do with your day or your life. I'm not saying that there isn't at least some validity to astrological charts (if you do believe in them), but your horoscope shouldn't presume to dictate your every move. What will be will be, and everyone is capable of making his or her own decisions without having to consult the stars. Like palmistry, it's just a fun thing to do at parties, particularly birthdays. Crossword puzzles are also supposed to be fun in addition to being a challenge, but they shouldn't seem impossible. It's nice to have the satisfaction of completing one once in a while. Even though there are probably no set rules in journalism regarding these types of columns aside from format or how much space each can occupy on a page, this issue is something to think about.


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