By Barry Gordemer

I just returned from London where I met the author of a new children’s book. It’s called Just Like a Journalist: Helping Young People Get Involved With Newsletters and Newspapers. The subtitle is a bit odd because the book is about more than just printed media. It also covers writing for the web.

Suzy Bender is the author. She’s a freelance journalist who’s written for The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal. She uses simple language and clever cartoons to help explain the fundamentals of journalism.

I particularly like Bender’s definition of news–“Something that has just happened or is about to happen.” It does not get much simpler than that. The simplicity and clarity of Bender’s explanations are the book’s strength.

She says the best way to bring a story to life is by “people-ising” it–showing “…how the event affects the people involved.”

Bender offers this tip in the chapter on interviewing: “Use your eyes as well as your ears.” Paying attention to people’s gestures, whether they played with their keys or leaned forward as they spoke can add meaningful detail. On the practical side, politely refuse food or drink. “You have enough to concentrate on without worrying about spilling liquid.”

Bender warns, that when writing for the web, “you have only a few seconds in which to get the reader’s interest and you can lose it very quickly.” She says don’t spend so much time on the design of your site that you lose track of the importance of words.

The book also covers story selection, writing, editing, and photography.

I have a few quibbles. Bender has a chapter on layout and design but the book itself is a mess. It features long, unbroken paragraphs in wide, sometimes hard-to-read columns. The cartoons are great but many seem to have nothing to do with the surrounding content.

That being said, Just Like a Journalist is a fast read and, I must confess, I learned a few things.