9 Apr 2010 7:15 am   //   Filed under: Media, Technology

Two articles every writer should read

A newspaper editor friend recently asked me for advice on keeping up with the latest online jargon.

First, I suggested he use the phrase “location-based social networking” at every opportunity. And second, I recommended he read two articles. Here are links to the two articles and why I recommended each one.

The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model, By Daniel Roth

This WIRED story from last fall is a good overview of Demand Media, a company that’s taking the traffic=money business model to its logical extreme. Demand uses an algorithm to generate headlines designed to pull in the best possible combination of ad revenue and search engine traffic. Once the headlines are chosen, Demand’s editors hire a stable of low-paid freelancers write the articles. Some of the articles are useful, many are train wrecks. (“How to Buy Stocks” is a classic.) But they’re all meant to sell. If you are a newspaper—ie., your business depends on attracting as many readers as possible to displaying relevant ads to them—Demand Media and its ilk (Seed, Associated Content) are your competition. And they could crush you.

5 Easy Steps to Creating Reusable Social Content, By Jay Baer on Social Media Examiner

There are many social media blogs with posts similar to this one, but I singled out this article as a typical study of the 2010 social media ecosystem. The writer offers advice on how to make your content sing on multiple platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, blogs and e-mail blasts. One of his tips is, “Remember, one of your most important customers is Google.” Fine. But at no point does this blogger allude to any actual, living, breathing human customer. Have we lost our way this badly?

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Conventional wisdom on the Internet is that story performance can be engineered through science. Experienced writers know it takes more than this. We know how to listen, process and communicate information for an audience. We understand how readers respond to surprises and quirks and little nudges that encourage them to stay with whatever it is we’re giving them. We know how to write with compassion and empathy about sensitive subjects. We know when it’s best to write nothing.

Fortunately, the statistical stuff can be learned. It’s up to every writer who wants to work to learn it. We need to learn how to code, and how to make data work for us. We don’t take our marching orders from robots, but we also don’t sit around complaining that the Internet offers no way to distinguish quality from crap. Either you take control of this mess, or somebody else does.