An Open Letter to Writers
|October 23, 2013||Posted by admin under Journalism, Musings||
The time for phoning it in is over.
If what you write doesn’t have a pulse, it doesn’t matter how insightful or pressing the issue is.
There is a narrative going around that people don’t read anymore.
That’s not true.
People just don’t read boring, soulless work if they don’t have to.
Yes, I know those dry PDC documents and financial forms are necessary for people to know about and they’re not getting any more riveting anytime soon. That’s not their job.
If gentrification and financial justice fascinate you, then it is your job as a writer to evoke the same excitement in your readers. Tell them why this is important. Show them the effects.
Don’t mash it down into applesauce for a mass audience. Use great detail to paint a picture. Engage your readers’ minds and get their synapses firing. If you do your job, the readers will want to pore through all the tedious paperwork themselves.
Readers, like any other consumers of media, want an experience. That’s what gets them coming back. The experience is what makes them tell their friends about you.
It’s not enough for someone to see a headline and click “Like” anymore.
Sure, you can make friends who will share your work with others, but that can only go so far. Thousands of views, “Likes,” and retweets are cool, but what about real engagement?
Congratulations, you got 600 “Likes” on your re-written press release about a popular group. How many of the people that clicked like would come out to the bookstore or the library to hear you read that piece? How many would pay for a book or publication full of stories just like that?
If you’re a journalist, believe in your byline, not the name of your publication.
I took the media studies classes just like you did. I remember them telling me that as members of the media, we are the agenda setters.
Newsflash: Readers aren’t going for it anymore. That person behind a computer, looking down on the street from his company’s building is no more an authority than anyone else.
It doesn’t matter what name you have behind you. If I, as a reader, can’t feel it, then I’m going somewhere else where I can. I don’t give a damn about objective, subjective or anything else we as reporters say to pump ourselves up. I know what facts are. I know how to check them. For the readers that don’t, they almost certainly know someone who will check and correct them on it, if need be.
Lastly, put the moral compass down.
There is no more “we should cover this” or “we need to cover that.”
Write about what you feel. If you force it, readers can tell. And when you don’t feel what you’re writing, no matter how good the cause, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and the issue.
If you’re trying to help out a powerful play, a lame piece will, at best, not entice anyone that wasn’t going already. At worst, it will discourage would-be playgoers because why should they go if the writer couldn’t muster up enough energy to make it sound exciting?
There are plenty of people who feel passionately and want to get the word out there (Clearly, because they contacted you to cover something). Encourage them to find a reporter with the same passion, or even write about it themselves. If they don’t feel capable, offer to help them find someone who can help them become proficient writers.
Who knows? Maybe teaching people how to get the most out of their writing and pitch stories could be a new revenue stream for you.
We can talk about having things documented for historical record all we want. What do we want people to say when they actually look back? What good is it if the only takeaway is that you did a lackluster piece to follow what everyone else was writing?
People have too many options when it comes to media consumption. Good won’t cut it anymore and no one has time for average.
If you want real, sustainable success, always aim for great.
There is no set formula for great. The only guarantee is that if your piece has no feeling, it’s not there yet.
To be clear, I’m not asking you to be Dr. Dre or Jay Electronica with your pieces.
Try and fail. Then try again. Just don’t phone it in.
A writer tired of trying to sell mediocrity with gimmicks