Why journos shouldn’t write fiction

There’s an old joke about journalists’ literary ambitions.

First journalist: “I’m writing a novel.”

Second journalist: ‘Neither am I.”  

So Dr Mumbo salutes The Australian’s WA editor Tony Barrass for turning his hand to creative writing.

The result filled a full page of his purple prose in The Oz in a tale titled Nothing less than a bloody scoop.

It was an extraordinary effort, which happily can be read online. It tells the story of a journalist of dubious ethics who gets a bereaved family to share their grief by letting them think they’re a cop.

A sample of the writing should probably suffice for now:

“Ray’s pulse automatically ratcheted up, in time with the pace of the high-performance Corolla. He could hear the muffled voices in the background, urgency and tension in the tone.”

Or as one reader of the article put it to Dr Mumbo: “The writing is so bad it makes me want to punch myself in the face.”

If you’re very lucky, more extracts will follow.


  1. Foobar
    11 Jan 10
    1:48 pm

  2. “a high-performance Corolla”. What is that exactly, cos I’ve never seen one.

  3. Caitlin @ Roaming Tales
    11 Jan 10
    2:03 pm

  4. Not all journalists are good writers but some are. If journalists didn’t write fiction, the world would be without the literary works of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Graham Greene, to name a few. More recently, Geraldine Brooks has turned to fiction and I really love her work.

  5. anon1
    11 Jan 10
    2:05 pm

  6. The golden rule must be to NOT write about news/journalism/media.

    Otherwise you end up with a load of Mary-Sue drivel and obscure in-jokes that no “lay” audience is going to comprehend, let alone care about.

    Generally speaking the public loathes journalists and assorted newsmakers, so unless you’re writing them in as villains and hate figures, don’t bother.

  7. TMC
    11 Jan 10
    2:07 pm

  8. *snort* @Foobar, you took the words right outta my mouth!

  9. The Worst of Perth
    11 Jan 10
    2:24 pm

  10. Jeezus, Tony Bare-arse has really excelled himself this time. Surely someone would have had a quiet word? Don’t they have editors over there?

  11. Evie
    11 Jan 10
    2:24 pm

  12. Agree with Anon.

    There are a few journos with good books out, and an equal amount who try way too hard to write the scoop they never got.

  13. The Worst of Perth
    11 Jan 10
    2:39 pm

  14. My theory now is that they’re trying to get rid of him by allowing this to see light of day. Save on payout if he resigns in shame.

  15. Jooja
    11 Jan 10
    3:08 pm

  16. anon1 – what if your audience is “news/journalism/media” types? It’s frustrating reading a book on an area of interest that dumb’s things down to explain in-jokes to the lay person when there are no lay people in the intended audience.

  17. skink
    11 Jan 10
    3:15 pm

  18. I believe that Tony Saddass has broken rules 1, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 10 of Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules:


  19. natasha
    11 Jan 10
    3:32 pm

  20. spot on Caitlin, without journalists writing fiction we’d never have read Hemingway or some great Aussie authors – including another ex-The West Australian writer Robert Drewe, and ex-ABC Nikki Gemmel. Some however, show room for improvement. And look, even Tim Winton went to writing school to learn his craft. Time for a fiction course, perhaps?

  21. Will
    11 Jan 10
    3:49 pm

  22. Such an easy target but you could at least proof your post before uploading. The literal in the last line makes you look like a bufoon.

  23. natasha
    11 Jan 10
    4:19 pm

  24. and how are those metaphors? weather that snapped like a wet blanket. oh dear.

  25. LisaB
    11 Jan 10
    4:38 pm

  26. “The writing is so bad it makes me want to punch myself in the face.” That’s the best bit.

  27. mumbrella
    11 Jan 10
    4:59 pm

  28. Thanks Will. Typo updated.

    Buffoon is usually spelled with a double F, by the way.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  29. Mr Corbett
    12 Jan 10
    11:34 am

  30. Oh Will…school boy error my friend. Always TRIPLE check your own post when going on a spelling / punctuation attack…

  31. long time listener, first time caller...
    12 Jan 10
    1:37 pm

  32. Ohhhhhhh snap! The rookie got a zap! Too much punctuation shows the English skills are crap!

  33. anon1
    13 Jan 10
    10:07 am

  34. “anon1 – what if your audience is “news/journalism/media” types?”

    then don’t expect to make a living as a novelist


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