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
  • 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






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.


So what is content marketing, anyway?

A few months ago I was asked to write something substantive about content marketing with particular attention to an emerging form, the brand newsroom.

Both were subjects I was aware of but by no means expert. So it proved an interesting research project. Interviews with those who had the marketing expertise and first-hand experience proved invaluable. They included:

  • Clare Francis, editor-in-chief of Moneysupermarket
  • Stephen Waddington, President of the CIPR and Ketchum’s Digital and Social media Director
  • Tony Hallett, former publishing director at CBS Interactive and now managing director of Collective Content (with whom I work on other projects)
  • Will Sturgeon, Executive Director of GolinHarris; and
  • Neville Hobson, Consultant and co-presenter of the For Immediate Release podcast

The piece — with tips on building newsrooms and editorial teams —  is now available to download from MyNewsDesk. Meanwhile, here’s a taster from the opening:

When the lights went out at the Super Bowl on 3 February 2013, a metaphorical light bulb went on above the head of one of the editorial marketers working for Nabisco, makers of the Oreo cookie. And in that moment, real-time content marketing went mainstream…

In perhaps the smartest example of “news jacking” to date, the cookie company combined quality creative with a killer line of copy: “You can still dunk in the dark.”  The process was agile, delivered at speed and proved highly effective – it resulted in thousands of Twitter retweets and Facebook shares while, in a perfect confluence of owned and earned, the story was picked up by dozens of media outlets in the days that followed.

Two things are often forgotten in the retelling of the Oreo story. First, the company had also paid for a conventional, multi-million dollar advertising slot to run during American sport’s richest event [2], hinting at a future where guerrilla marketing and conventional advertising will coexist.

Second, the company’s rapid response was only made possible by months of planning. The Super Bowl exemplar was part of a 100-day project, a product of production and meticulous preparation, of governance already in place, sign-off processes agreed and editorial practices honed in advance.

For anyone interested in the future of publishing, content marketing (in its many guises) is an important development. There are questions to be asked, for example, about how to maintain clear divisions between ‘church’ and ‘state’ when content appears on a publication’s website; about the integrity and value of that content in its own right; and what impact it will have on traditional advertising, PR and marketing.

In other words, it’s a trend journalists and publishers should understand, not ignore.

You can download The rise of the brand newsroom from here.


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.

“All free content will compete equally and volume will win”

Here’s an extract from John Gapper’s FT piece (£) on click-bait stories that “flourish on social networks”. It’s a piece I discovered, appropriately enough, on Twitter.

On the protestations this kind of viral content elicits from many news publishers (sloppy journalism, blurred lines between advertising and editorial etc)  Gapper writes:

I find it hard not to laugh at the moral outrage of news publishers whose muckraking is outflanked by cute cat videos. As long as media buyers and advertisers do not distinguish among consumers who find news through search engines and those who are drawn to entertainment through Facebook likes and Twitter mentions, all free content will compete equally and volume will win.

You can read the full piece 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.