A friend of mine just shuttered his blog.
And now he’s mute, because his employer doesn’t want him blogging. [Read more...]
A friend of mine just shuttered his blog.
And now he’s mute, because his employer doesn’t want him blogging. [Read more...]
(The audio is still here, I have moved it to the bottom.)
Several people are prodding me to write a book. I probably have several in me that I don’t yet know are there – along with the ones I know are there but I’ve been too lazy to extrude.
Fortunately, I’ve had enough going on in my life to keep me busy, or at least give me the excuse not to crack down and just do it. But is that the only reason? Or is there something more fundamental going on with regards to what we consider a book? And will it matter? [Read more...]
By now, many others have weighed in on a very recent online spat, so I won’t go into particulars.Listen to The Internet is a Kennel
Person B, who is very well-respected (and less well-known,) wrote about how such interactions and communications can indeed breed incivility online, without naming names.
Person A wrote a scathing open letter to Person B.
Both Person A and Person B are friends of mine. Real friends, not just “online friendz,” with whom I have shared multiple meals and drinks apiece. So this isn’t about them.
This is about the lapdogs who try to curry favor with the Internet Famous. [Read more...]
There’s the short answer:
Fill in the empty parts until they aren’t empty, then hit “Publish.”
Then there’s the long answer. The process involves a number of steps you’ve considered, but you need the discipline to imprint it into your workflow. (oh… and this isn’t just for blogs, either.)
Conversely, hatching someone else’s eggs makes you look weak in comparison, as you’re just promulgating someone else’s heritage. Be yourself, speak from your experiences and ideas.
…not the egg to the nest.
Each one sounds progressively more absurd, but they all come from the same fallacy: an artificially-imposed restriction. There is no optimal length for your post, because only you can decide when you’ve exhausted the material to the level of detail you require. Yes, your 2,400 word novella can indeed bore a reader into submission, but you can just as easily bore them in 400.
Size doesn’t matter. Pixels are cheap, and you aren’t bound by the restrictions of print publications or rigid television time constraints. Say what you need to say, and let your passion expand to fill the prose.
If you’re giving the reader a lot of information, respect the way they navigate the page. Break up the post with visual elements that act as mileposts, so as they scroll down the page they can see the progress they’re making.
Think about how you read. If you are scrolling through a page that is nothing but text, you can get lost. But if you know where you are with relation to that image on the screen, it’s easy to recover from a distraction and get back into the piece.
Don’t count on your sidebar to play that role. Readers tune out sidebars completely when they engage with your essay. Your visual signpost needs to be within that 600-pixel-wide content box.
When you preview what you’ve written, scroll through it. If you ever encounter a section that doesn’t contain an element for visual cues, then add something. Preferably something of value.
Paint the egg, add a decal… something that tells us we’re moving.
People respond well to narratives, because story gives context while fact shivers naked in the cold.
Want to know what the original subheads of this piece were?
Those were very functional headings, but they didn’t drive a narrative. Once I went through my “Polishing Pass” (see below), I saw an opportunity to weave the chicken and egg theme throughout this post. It came to me as an after-thought, like many good ideas do. (And voila, I also now have a story to include in this post, which is already meta beyond hope.)
If there isn’t a real opportunity to insert a story, at least write the way you talk. When you write for academics or search engines, you end up meeting their expectations.
Dry and formulaic are no way to go through life, son.
You are going back and previewing, aren’t you?
This is different than the typical proofreading pass for spelling and grammar. (And based on what I see published, too many of you believe spell-check will fix your there/they’re and lose/loose problems.)
This is the time to read for theme and tone.
I like a lot of the first instincts I have about what I write. But on the “polishing pass,” I look for opportunities to bring the post to a new level. Sometimes I’ll have a great beginning and ending, but missed a chance to extend the overall analogy to the middle points. You might have a post that starts with “X” but ends in “Y,” when really it is more interesting to bring things full-circle. Maybe start with “X” and end on “X-prime.”
Comedians refer to those hooks as “tie-backs.” The punchline you deliver early on can re-emerge during a crescendo conclusion with an altered meaning. It builds layers into your communication, and in the case of the comedian reminds the audience of something they thought was funny a while ago. Successful comics weave several tie-backs into the final minute, so the audience walks away remembering the highlights of the performance. Which leads us to…
…the chicken or the Egg?
Start with your End, or at least fake it.
Whether you are doing a speech, a Powerpoint presentation, a blog post or a story, you need to leave your audience with a takeaway. Have in mind the one thing you want them to remember, and strive to make that point.
Sometimes it takes you 2,000 words to make the case and share the evidence.
Sometimes it takes but a sentence.
But leave them with a single takeaway. If you have to, go back and tweak the introduction to properly set up the piece and foreshadow the takeaway. Then rewrite the title to describe the benefit, not state it.
Dear chicken, it’s not about you. It’s about the egg. Serve the egg, and you’ll be asked to produce more.
While I have been musing about what it would take to kick off an online news outlet in Birmingham featuring original reporting, someone else has gone and done it.
Kyle Whitmire, who has been covering the city through Birmingham Weekly and other outlets for the past few years, has just launched Second Front, a part of a larger entity called Weld Birmingham (weldbham).
I had no idea Kyle had this cooking when I wrote my piece, “Is Birmingham Ready for an Online Newspaper.” I did know he had something in mind, while tweeting as @secondfront. The site appears to be running WordPress Multiuser, indicating there will be more specialized focus areas as it grows.
I spoke with him at length, and while I can’t share everything just yet, there are a couple of aspects of this venture that are intriguing to me.
Second Front it starting with the philosophy of building up from the bottom. Instead of trying to be a full-featured publication, it will take the interests, niches and experiences of its contributors and guide content that way. Don’t expect to get everything about everything. In fact, Second Front itself will be just about politics.
Kyle is an old-style boots-on-the-ground reporter, but he knows he can’t be everywhere at once. When he can’t be omnipresent, he’ll be aggregating various articles for background and weaving them into a textured analysis. In this piece on Bingo in Alabama, for example, he cites 11 individual links from four sources.
It will be interesting to see how this evolves. There are many other pieces to roll forward out of this puzzle. Let’s just say Kyle has started the engine on one of the many models for online journalism, and it ought to be fun to see if this ship can fly.
What is the difference between a Journalist and a Blogger?
For many, it is an issue of credibility. There’s certainly no magic dust that makes the keyboard of one shine with dignity and truth. And there’s very little difference between pixels and pulp. The truth on your screen is still truer than a lie in paper. But ask someone to define it for you objectively, and often they can’t. [Read more...]
There. I said it.
This notion of “citizen journalism” and “conversations” and “participation” is history.
And here is the proof:
This is a “blog post” from Amos Doolittle, from the year 1813, called “Brother Johnathan Administering a Salutary Cordial to John Bull.”
In it, our protagonist (Brother Johnathan) is forcing foul swill down the mouth of one of her majesty’s finest Redcoats. Poor John Bull pleads for mercy (click on the picture for a closer look):
“Oh, don’t force me to take it, Brother Johnathan – Give me Holland Gin, French Brandy – anything but this D—-d Yankee Perry – it has already fuddled me!”
To which, Brother Johnathan replies in a manner only a noble American can (if that noble American is “The Rock,” and you can “smell what he is cooking.”):
“Take it Johnny, take it I say – why can’t you take it? It will mend your morals and your manners too, friend Johnny. – Plague on you, you shall swallow it!”
The play on words here regards a naval commander named Oliver Perry, as well as a reference to pear-based liqueurs that were known to cause digestive problems. (See, I told you it was like the WWE!)
I happened upon this piece at the Birmingham Museum of Art, which is currently showing “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” on loan from Yale through January 10, 2010. It has hundreds of pieces from the John Trumbull collection, and the fact that these pieces are on the road is a story in and of itself.
Trumbull was a great painter in his own right, and collected a lot a long the way. He willed it to Yale, with the provision that the collection must stay intact and on site, or else it automatically reverts to Harvard.
When Yale wanted to do massive renovations on the building housing the permanent collection, much of it needed to move. Lawyers from both schools reached an agreement that as long as the renovations were underway, that parts of the collection could travel without penalty.
As I am not as wealthy or well-traveled, I can’t say from personal experience – but the Birmingham Museum of Art has a reputation for taking great exhibits and making them even better. Most of the curators from traveling exhibits marvel at how much care Birmingham puts into the display – (that’s “plating” for you foodie-type Iron Chef fans.) They say their pieces have never looked as good as they do here. During my brief visit, we were told that word had gotten out in Arizona, and there were an extraordinarily high number of visitors from Tuscon who were frequenting the loaned display. Who knew?
While the exhibit is fascinating from an artistic perspective, there is much for the communicator to appreciate.
As much as we like to bemoan the state of our media, we’re pretty tame in our manipulation of images and events. The textbooks will tell you that the science of Public Relations began with Ivy Lee just a century ago, but that doesn’t explain the work of Paul Revere in “The Bloody Massacre.”
Historians will tell you that the firing-squad nature of the picture likely bore no resemblance to the reality of the Boston Massacre – but that fits right along with today’s “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” (Not to mention the white-washing of Crispus Attucks, who was black.)
Looking at pieces like these, you can’t help but think about the agitation caused by those ruffians, those partisan bloggers who skew reality to stir up trouble.
We’re in the midst of some fairly partisan times. Which is nothing new.
Our media is in a shambles. Again, this is nothing new.
What is new is the ability to reach around the world immediately, instead of with more deliberate pace. Or, as Peter Shankman puts it, the ability to be famous for being globally stupid in an instant.
If you’re within driving distance of Birmingham, come on in and see it before it gets crowded. The exhibit is fantastic, and loaded with history. Birmingham is notorious for being a walk-in-at-the-last-minute town, so avoid the crowds.
If you’re a professional communicator and you’re within driving distance, then you have no excuse. There is too much history to absorb, and it will snap you out of the rat-race social-media bubble, and put communications back into proper perspective.
And when you get here, go ahead and find James Madison in this classic portrait: