I’ve been spoiled here at Broadside by readers who are — thank you! — a lively, funny, smart group, from Danielle and Matthew and Cecile in New Zealand to Leah in Iowa to Rami in Ohio to Maddy in Lusaka to David and Elizabeth in England.
I’d name more, but there are (!) so many of you, which is unlikely but also lovely.
I want to pause our regularly scheduled programming to go a little meta for a moment.
The whole point of blogging, which I do in addition to writing for a living full-time, is to create a community where we can talk to one another frankly about the stuff that matters to us: work, love, the challenge of making a decent living while living our values, friends, family, heath, feminism, public policy, art, creativity, beauty, travel, home, design, ethics, writing, journalism — frankly, whatever seems interesting.
If it’s not fun, why bother?
Every day, five to 10 new people sign up to follow Broadside, which is crazy but flattering; we’re now at 4,600+ readers worldwide, of all ages and nationalities, from Haiti to Ghana to Malaysia to India to rural Australia.
So I was a little shaken recently to get a comment, which I trashed, (which I’ve done maybe twice in almost four years of blogging three times a week.)
I debated whether or not to trash it, or reply publicly or reply to them privately.
But I did trash it. Life is too short to argue with or absorb toxicity from people I don’t know, and for whom I work without a paycheck.
The commenter called me “weak” and a “fucking hypocrite.”
Everyone is entitled an opinion and I want to hear yours.
I’ve been called on the carpet a few times here by readers, for my short-sighted or stupid or unkind thinking. It’s useful and interesting, as long as everyone remains civil and respectful, even in the middle of a hotly contested argument.
But no one is entitled to ad hominem attacks here, on me or on anyone else who makes the time to come here, read and comment.
So I welcome your ideas and insights, your advice and stories. I am very eager to hear comments, especially from more of you.
But nasty behavior not only scares and annoys me, it creates a tone I don’t want here and inhibits others from speaking out.
This whole talking-to-total-strangers thing requires a level of trust and candor that is highly counter-intuitive, to me anyway.
When I write journalism, the comments flooding in to The New York Times in reply to my stories there,(258 came in worldwide on one recent story about workers over 50), are very rarely directed at me personally. I’m shielded both by the nature of those stories — far less personal than these posts — and by the institution that chooses to publish my work. Nor am I required, (as a freelancer), to reply to anyone.
I did read every single of those 258 NYT comments, in full. But the rules of engagement here are very different. I do answer almost every comment here.
I’m amazed, and dismayed, by how few bloggers consistently add visual content to their posts. A sea of words is daunting and dull. Magazines and newspapers know they must seduce readers into their material, not simply subject them to an unbroken and wearying sea of type.
You thought more like an editor
When you write for an editor, your ideas, and how you plan to express them, have to pass muster with someone else, often several. They usually ask you to explain, a little or a lot, why you think this story is worth doing now. Blogging offers writers tremendous freedom of expression — please don’t abuse it.
You remembered that your readers are busy, easily bored and quickly distracted
Journalists are taught to use the “inverted pyramid”, in which the most essential information in any story is at the very top, usually within the first sentence or paragraph. We do it because readers are like very small tired children — they have short attention spans and wander off within seconds. Grab them fast!
You wooed me in with a fab headline
Magazine editors sweat over coverlines, the teasing short sentences they choose to put on their magazine covers, hoping to make you buy their edition over that of their competitiors. Newspaper editors know they need powerful, succinct or amusing headlines to catch our eye and pull us into a story. Have you ever studied some of the best heads? “Headless body found in topless bar” is a classic. This is an excellent headline as it immediately made me read the post — it’s bossy, very specific and focused on a place I know well. Sold!
Don’t force readers to scale a huge unbroken block of copy! It’s lazy and editorially rude. They’ll just click away, irritated. And I see this a lot.
You posted more frequently
A blog that shows up every few months is the sign of someone who just isn’t that into blogging. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it takes time. Your readers are there for a reason. They want to read what you have to say! Don’t disappoint them.
You posted less frequently
True, dat. Some bloggers, giddy with the delicious freedom of being able to hit “publish” after every little thought flitting through their head, post constantly. I know that some bloggers relish the writing challenge of producing a post a day, but do your readers have that much time or interest?
We’re not writing for ourselves, but our readers’ pleasure.
You had more of a sense of humo(u)r
The best blogs have some lightness to them. They’re not a laugh riot all the time, and can often be serious. But being earnest all the time ? We usually shy away from that in real life, so why would we choose to read it? Mix it up a little.
You remembered I don’t live nearby, and don’t get your points of reference
I live in a town north of New York City, and most of my readers also live in the U.S. But I also have readers in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, India, places where a reference I might make to a local politician or cultural figure or news story may mean nothing to someone who’s never heard of them. Add a link to help your readers far away better understand what you’re talking about.
You didn’t mistake a public blog for a private journal
This is the single greatest mistake I see in too many blogs. I really don’t want to read someone whining: “I don’t know what to write.” A blog is a public document, visible in perpetuity to anyone who finds it — your friends, family, employer, future employers. Make it lively, interesting, compelling and intriguing.
You didn’t underestimate the power of a great blog
A few bloggers have won paid writing opportunities, or more, thanks to their terrific blogs. A well-written and illustrated blog, with smartly-chosen links and consistently compelling material, is a fantastic way to showcase your design, thinking, ideas and insights — far more effectively than any resume can.
If you’re a current high school or college student, fresh grad or work-seeker, consider creating a blog strategically. It’s your very own billboard.
You understood that it takes time to grow an audience
Some fortunate few find thousands of followers within weeks, but more likely this will take months or years. Broadside has almost 4,000 followers now, but it began in July 2009, has more than 1,300 posts, (archives help), and has been chosen for Freshly Pressed six times, each time bringing in thousands of views and new followers. (My best-ever day, thanks to FP, brought in 7,606 people.)
Tried using bold and italics once in a while
A sea of unbroken copy is bad enough. Readers need breaks! We need to know when and where to pay extra attention. Read books and magazines — even their on-line versions — to get a better feel for this.
Linked to and quoted others
Readers are hungry for well-curated content. What else are you reading or listening to?
You revealed more of yourself
Readers are hungry for authenticity. We don’t need all the gory details, but we want to feel we “know” the people who are asking us for our limited attention.
Some bloggers beat us to death with detail. Why is what you’re posting of compelling interest to others?
You introduced yourself
There are far too many blogs where the writer hasn’t even bothered to fill out the “about” page. Every single magazine includes an editor’s letter and their photo, in addition to “our contributors” pages, with their photos and mini-bio’s. In a world of competing voices, why should we listen to yours? Who are you? Where do you live? Have you any specific experience or credentials that add authority to your posts? Don’t be too cute or coy. The blogosphere is a public space and staying totally anonymous means I have no idea why I should give you my very limited time and attention.
You leave me wanting more
Don’t overshare. Many bloggers bury readers in minutiae, a level of detail about their kids or cats or classes, super personal stuff that’s too internal and not focused on me, your reader. Make me hungry to hear more, not covering my ears going lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala.
It was once called reporting, the idea of spending days, weeks or maybe even months researching a story in depth. It didn’t mean a quick Google search and a few emails.
It always involved the acronym GOYA — Get Off Your Ass! — as in, yes you actually have to leave the newsroom and the building.
But today such a story — like this recent, excellent one in Fortune about the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon — is called a “deep dive”.
Having been a print journalist for a few decades, one of the things I enjoy is our own little lexicon, the shorthand many of us use as we roam from newspaper to magazine to television to radio to blogging. Just as doctors have their words (GOMER = Get Out Of My Emergency Room), we too have a vocabulary of our own.
My sweetie, a career photographer and now a photo editor for The New York Times, speaks this language as well. We can have conversations that might be pretty unintelligible to a non-journo!
For your amusement:
Lede The opening paragraph of a story
Kicker The final paragraph of a story
Nut Graf The central argument for why this story matters
TickTock A recounting of how a major story unfolded
Deck In magazines, the short abstract that tells you what the piece will be about
Hed The headline
Coverlines The teasers that are meant to make you pick up a magazine: “Ten Days To Thinner Thighs!”
Masthead The listing of the publication’s senior staff; sometimes all of them
Above the fold Where the most important stories land in a newspaper, above where it’s folded in half in a broadsheet
Broadsheet A newspaper that unfolds, like The New York Times
Tabloid A smaller paper like the New York Post; tabs are usually more downmarket in tone and content than broadhseets
Berliner A paper whose dimensions lie between a broadsheet and tabloid, like Le Monde
The wood The entire front page of a tabloid, given to the biggest stories
Agate The tiny credit at the edge of a photograph naming the photographer and/or agency
The budget The daily list of every story planned for the day’s paper, which may change as the news does, delineating how much space each will get
Dress page The front page of a section
Byline The reporter’s name…i.e. By….
Dateline The location from which the story was filed (confusing, no?)
Curtain-raiser A story that leads into an event and previews it
Puff piece An uncritical story
Hatchet job The opposite of a puff piece!
TK Short for “to come” — I don’t have that information yet but will fill it in later
Phoner A phone interview
Presser A press conference
Flack A public relations representative
Hack/Hackette In the U.K., a journalist, male or female
Sub-editor In the U.K., a copy editor who fixes errors and grammar after the story is written by the reporter
Bulldog The earliest edition of a daily paper, which may have five editions a day
Slug What a story is named, in one word or two, as it moves through the news system
Heave A story that goes on and on and on and on…
Thumbsucker Often, a Time cover story, like “Does God Exist”
FOB In magazines, the front of the book, where smaller items run
The well In magazines, the main part of the publication, where longer features run
What’s some of the jargon your profession or industry uses?
This is funny and sadly true, from rockmycar.net, written by San Diego journo Tom Chambers:
1) We can figure things out...We don’t take shit from anyone, so don’t lie to us or give a load of bullshit. We spend all day separating fact from fiction, listening to PR cronies and dealing with slimy politicians. If you make us do the same with you, you’re just gonna piss us off…
2) At some point, you will be a topic. Either through a feature story or an opinion column, something you do or say will be a subject. Get over it. Consider it a compliment, even if we’re arguing against you in print.
Think about it: we live our lives writing about life. If you’re a part of our life, we’re going to write about you, your thoughts or a subject springing from one of the two.
3) Yes, we think we’re smarter than you. In fact, we know it. Does that smack of ego? Absolutely — but that confidence is what makes your heart go pitter-patter…
Don’t be surprised if we’re not impressed when you say, “I’m a writer, too.” No, you are not. The fact that you sit in a coffee shop wearing black while scribbling in your journal does not make you a writer. Nor does the fact that you “wrote some poems in high school” or that one day you want to pen “the great American novel.”
Look, we’re paid to write. Every day…
4) You’re not less important than the job — the job is just more important than anything else. One doesn’t become a journalist to sit in an office from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday.
We do take our work home. If news is happening, we’ll drop whatever we’re doing — even if it’s with you — to cover it. We’re always looking for stories, so yes, we’ll stop on the street to write something down, interview a passer-by or gather information for a lead.
5) You won’t be disappointed. Journalists are intense, driven, passionate folk. We carry those same attributes into our relationships, making it an extremely fun ride well worth the price.
Can’t say I’d argue with any of that.
My partner, like me, is a driven career journo. We started selling our work to national outlets while we were college freshmen, routinely wrecking dates and relationships by disappearing on assignment or into the darkroom. He’s slept under his newsroom desk. I’ve covered stories, in the winter, on crutches.”Gotta go!” means “Hang up now” and we don’t take it the least bit personally. When bombs go off in places like Islamabad or Baghdad, we sometimes worry about our friends and colleagues who, on their own adrenaline highs wearing Kevlar, are just doing their jobs.
You’re either crazy about this stuff or you get out pretty quickly.
These days, at night, a little light will flash at 1:43 a.m. or 3:26 a.m. on our respective bedside tables. It’s our Itouches blasting an AP news bulletin, which we then read and look at the photos and wonder who will cover it best.
And then we’ll go back to sleep. And, then, get up — eagerly still — and head off to make sense of it all, yet again.