TL;DR: a selection of articles for the Guardian Media & Tech network

Thirteen articles from the last couple of years, starting with the most recent:

Facebook’s dominance in journalism could be bad news for us all
Could it be that the short-term high from socially distributed content – greater reach – inevitably gives way to symptoms of dependency: loss of control and financial damage?

From digital to print: the publishers bucking the online-only trend
The march of technological progress moves in just one direction. From analogue to digital. From standalone to connected. From print to online. That, at least, is the conventional view. The reality is far messier. And far more interesting.

How can publishers inspire trust in an era of distributed media?
Where once publishers used social media as a promotional tool to pull users back to their own websites, now social networks and messaging apps have morphed into content hosts – think Facebook Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover, Apple News, LinkedIn Pulse, Google AMP and, even, Twitter Moments.

What is Twitter’s real reach?
Regardless of the stalling active users and top line numbers, perhaps Twitter still matters. Perhaps it still has influence, albeit indirectly.

Cosmo and Lad Bible reach new audiences through social
Nobody owns the audience, Facebook will change the rules of publisher engagement to suit its needs and the benefits of using social platforms controlled by others outweigh the disadvantages.

Current affairs magazines are defying the death of print
As it is with long-form broadcast so it is with current affairs magazines at their best. By taking a longer view and by devoting more time and space to key events, current affairs magazines can help readers marshal their thoughts (shape them, even) and separate the signal from the noise.

From Bloomberg to Quartz: five attempts to tackle our attention deficit
In a world of finite time and apparent infinite choice, how are publishers encouraging readers to stick around? And how, especially, are they persuading them to stay for the longish reads? One answer is to provide visual or text-based cues to indicate how much time readers will need to invest in a particular article. Here are five innovative approaches.

 TLDR: so just how short should your online article be?
In a world of 140 character tweets and five to six inch mobile phone screens, long is bad. Right? Well, maybe.

News UK, the Guardian and Outbrain on the labelling of sponsored content
If the problem is transparency and trust, is the solution better labelling? That was one of the questions a panel on native advertising wrestled with at the Changing Media Summit last week.

BuzzFeed to NME: a publisher’s masterclass in producing online video
Too many videos play as if they have been produced for company bosses. Brevity, focus and the ability to teach viewers something new are key ingredients

What kind of blogger are you?
From the polemicist to the magpie, here are four blogging archetypes worth exploring.

i100 and Quartz prove homepages are increasingly irrelevant
Homepages are a product of journalists who came from print and thought in print terms.

From Google to Buzzfeed: seven moments that shaped digital media
Seven milestones have marked radical change in the digital media in the 20 years since newspapers began publishing online.

Taking Twitter lessons from the New York Times

Don’t try too hard to please Twitter — and other lessons from The New York Times’ social media desk runs the headline as once again the team behind @NYTimes offer some insights from a year’s tweeting.

Most of the advice is well received. However – as I argue in my latest piece for the Press Gazette – the notion that we shouldn’t try too hard to please Twitter is rather undermined by the example given.

The question implied by this advice is: do print headlines work better than written-for-social-media sells? Using the New York Times’s own example, the answer is yes. But that says more about the pedestrian nature of the digital effort than some overarching rule.

A good online headline or social media sell should combine the wit (either or both meanings of the word) of a newspaper headline with a dash of digital pragmatism.

Read: What New York Times teaches us about Twitter. And what it doesn’t

7 lessons in mobile publishing

Following the Press Gazette’s excellent News on the Move conference last month, I’ve written a piece for the Guardian Media Network pulling out the key lessons shared on the day.

In short, what does the move to mobile mean for publishers of all stripes? These seven things at least:

1. Plan for the extended internet day – and week

2. Think format

3. Remember, the web still rules

4. Use apps to upsell

5. Don’t forget the role of social media

6. Viral hits don’t happen without mobile

7. It’s the content, stupid

I expand on each over at ‘From BBC to BuzzFeed: lessons in mobile publishing‘.

Writing for the web: forthcoming Frontline Club workshop

On Friday 14 November I’m running a new workshop at the Frontline Club. During the session I will explain why writing for the web is exactly the same as writing for print — and why it’s completely different; which of the old rules still apply and which new rules you need to understand to prosper online.

Here’s what I plan to cover:

The principles of writing

  • Why writing for the web is exactly the same as print; and why it’s completely different
  • Understanding the audience
  • What Orwell can teach us about language and readability
  • Establishing the right tone of voice
  • Determining length and frequency
  • Five writers who understand the digital form

News and feature writing

  • The inverted Pyramid of news and why it still matters
  • The Five Ws of News
  • Finding a killer angle
  • Reporting vs opinion
  • News vs Features

Blog writing

  • The ‘atomised’ Inverted Pyramid
  • When is a blog not a blog?
  • Five blogging personas
  • Seven blog writing tips

Headlines and social media sells

  • Why headlines and sells matter more on the web
  • Tailoring headlines and sells for the web
  • HEADLINE WRITING EXERCISE
  • Ten headlines that work online, and ten headlines that don’t
  • SEO: An introduction
  • A practical guide to keyword research

 

To find out more and how to book, click here.

 

Why online headlines are different. And 5 other Content Desk articles

I’ve just completed some work for Content Cloud, a new digital marketplace that puts those seeking content (words, photos, graphics etc) with those that make it. Content Cloud has a sister site called Content Desk and as well as helping develop an editorial plan for the site, I contributed a few articles along the way. Here they are, all in one place:

How to write headlines for the web

What George Orwell can still teach us about writing and readability

Online headlines are different. And here’s the proof

David Mitchell and the art of 140 character storytelling

The Content Marketing Strategy checklist

The Streisand Effect and lessons in transparency

 

 

 

 

 

In the course of ‘Politics and the English Language’, Orwell offers not one but three numbered lists. Eat your heart out BuzzFeed

Q. What can George Orwell teach us about language and readability?

A. Quite a lot.

His 1946 essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’ is not to everybody’s taste but as guide to simple and effective writing it’s a great place to start. I’ll be using it in my Writing for the Web workshop at the Frontline Club in November and I’ve written a piece on it for Content Desk.

Among the advice Orwell offers is this:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

1. What am I trying to say?

2. What words will express it?

3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?

4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And in the course of the 5,000+ word article, he produces not one but three numbered lists. Very now.

Read: What George Orwell Can Still Teach Us About Writing And Readability

 

How can media brands strengthen their relationship with their customers?

Last week I chaired this session at the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit. The contributions from all five panelists are worth revisiting but I was particularly struck by:

– Ashley Highfield, CEO Johnston Press, on engagement (“I don’t think we do engagement well enough”) [26:35 apprx]

– Natasha Christie-Miller, CEO Emap, on how they measure what she calls “customer joy” [12:45 apprx]; and

– Tim Hunt, marketing director, Guardian News and Media, on the lessons from the title’s Facebook app [34:40 apprx]


You can view the discussion here and in due course I’m going to put some thoughts together for the Guardian Media Network.

 

Team Digital vs Team Mainstream Media. Not

Nicholas Lemann’s pre-Christmas review of George Brock’s book on news journalism in the digital age is worth reading in full. I have picked out  a couple of extracts that struck me as particularly telling.

First, he takes on the pointless zealotry that exists on both sides of debate:

Roughly speaking, the discussants divide into two teams: Team Digital, whose members are quick to predict the imminent and not especially tragic death of the familiar news organizations, and Team Mainstream Media, whose members look hopefully at every new development for evidence to support their wish for a restoration of the good old days. When Buzzfeed raises millions of dollars from venture-capital firms, or a member of the public with an iPhone produces the first picture of a breaking news event and posts it to a global audience, Team Digital proclaims victory. When the New York Times introduces a reasonably successful online subscription system, Team Mainstream Media does.

Second, he introduces (to me at least) an interesting nugget: US newspaper sales fell by 55 per cent from 1950 to 2008. Reflecting Brock’s argument, he says this decline mattered little when economies (and advertising rates) continued to prosper; and when publishing’s barrier to entry remained prohibitively expensive.

Lemann writes:

 Protected from competition, news organizations, for one historical season, were able to assemble, print and deliver a big collection of information people wanted and could not get from anywhere else – sports scores, movie times, stock prices, as well as more conventional news – into an unbreakable package. This allowed them to charge substantial fees to advertisers and subscribers.

If there’s perhaps one thing Team Digital and Team Mainstream Media can agree on it’s that the “unbreakable package” has now been broken.

You can read the full review here. More about Brock’s book here.

Why it’s hard for The Times to leverage social media behind a paywall

Two moves at The Times and Sunday Times — the closure of the Times Opinion Tumblr and the introduction of a retweeting tool — prompted me to write something for Press Gazette about how social media does and doesn’t work behind a paywall.

Here’s the crux of the piece:

Back in the mid/late 2000s search engines drove most people to The Times, accounting for up to 70 per cent of the traffic at one time, according to one senior editorial executive. That was pre-paywall and that was before social began to offer a serious alternative source of high volume traffic.

News International concluded that it couldn’t turn those passing eyeballs into a viable commercial model – and the majority of newspaper groups either side of the Atlantic have come to a similar conclusion.

But a subscription model doesn’t negate the need to create buzz around your journalism. After all, it’s the quality of that journalism that you are selling and to do that effectively you have to show some leg, you have to give non-subscribers a taste of what they are missing, you have to give some of it away for free.

You need to use social media effectively to spread the word. That means no matter how many staffers retweet a cracking page one splash, the link needs to lead somewhere that’s not “sign up here”.

You can read The Times, paywalls and social media here.

 

How to use Tumblr

Tumblr is a blogging platform but it isn’t WordPress. If that feels like a distinction so minor that it’s not worth making, I do think the differences between the two platforms, however small, do matter.

Tumblr tends to be more visual, more instant; less of the analysis, more of the bite-sized. Of course all these rules are there to be broken but those truths about the platform most likely explain why lots of people (and by people I mean newspapers, magazines, broadcasters etc) are struggling to work out how to use it.

As a counterpoint, here are four traditional media outlets that are using it well:

  1. Financial Times
  2. The Economist
  3. The Times
  4. New Statesman

In my Press Gazette column this week I explain why they have mastered Tumblr.