Reacting On Your Principles

The BASIC Principles of journalism, everyone has their own idea of what these might be.  In February of 2008, Online Journalism Blog made an acronym of the word “basic” about journalistic principles.

Breaking it down just as they did, letter by letter, let’s take a look at them all and then give a little feedback to them.

B –is for Brevity.  Keep it short, we live in an internet era.  People want their news and they want it fast!  (Hold on I got an ESPN update on my blackberry…just kidding, but you get the point.)  OJB says people reading print journalism are expecting something different than is offered online.  Too many people are still writing in print format than opposed to in an online format.  You had me until here.  Let me explain…currently my work consists of this blog and World Soccer Reader, they are two very different audiences, even though they both focus on soccer.  Here in the blog, most posts tend to be short and to the point.  (Warning this will not be one of them.)  For WSR, I’m likely reporting on a match or giving my opinion on a topic.  While my writing to this point for WSR has not been of the 2,000 word length, I do think that my readers would not take me seriously if I was to say the defense was shaky, Tim Howard played well and Landon Donovan saved the day again. These people want details, analysis and perspective to a match they may or may not have seen.  When talking about online there is a time and a place to be brief.  Print style writing is not dead, nor should it be excluded from online media.

OJB says the same thing for video and audio.  Now to their credit they do say don’t just cut everything to 500 words or 3 minutes, but I’ll stick with my feelings on this one.  I can’t stand it when ESPN or some other news outlet says highlights from the match are next.  Only to see the players walk on the field, a goal or two is scored (maybe replayed twice) and then a statistic; thirty seconds later and it’s on to something else.  Maybe this is my soccer bias here but again there is a time and place for brevity.

A –is for Adaptability.  You have to be able to adapt, if you’re like me, you’ve had professors or speakers telling you this from day one.  And I agree, it’s sad what is happening to print journalism, but you have to face the facts sometimes.  In this industry you have to be able to do a multitude of things.  Like OJB says, you don’t have to be an expert at everything, but you must be literate at them all.  My colleague Richard Farley, whom I interviewed earlier this week, at WSR does the “Inside the Six”podcast for us.  If he called and said can you run the podcast for a week, WSR would be in trouble.  Does that mean I don’t have a clue at how to run a podcast, no, but there is certainly room to improve.

S –is for Scannability.  How well can your work be found on the internet?  This doesn’t mean you have to work for the New York Times, ESPN or Yahoo.  But when someone is searching for something, most users go to search oriented websites with a task at hand.  Think SEO, Search Engine Optimisation.  Are your titles clear and to the point?

I’ll tell you a short story.  I was writing a piece for WSR once, I finished the piece and came up with what I thought was great title!  In the soccer world, specifically in the U.S., this story was a big deal.  When I went back to see my story published online, it had a different title!?  My editor had changed the title to what all the other sites were using.  He said it had to do with SEO, and that’s how I learned what SEO was.

OJB says the beginning of your story is crucial, what else is new right?  Well, readers won’t read more than the first two words when scanning.  Should they select your work, you better have the important information in the first two paragraphs.  Agreed, now I know why my professors stressed the nut graph so much…  OJB says numbers stop wandering eyes.  Interesting, I mean if you’re a stats guy, yeah that makes sense.  The numbers of story do tend to be the crucial information, whether it’s the weather, what day the story took place, how many people died or the significance of a world record.

Also stressed is the removal of the “Click here” link.  Umm…does the “Continue Reading” link apply here too?  Maybe I should rethink my blog links.  Embedding your links into the story tends to work best.

I – is for Interactivity.  The first thing that came into my head was bells and whistles.  You know, fun links.  Wrong.

OJB says give your users (or readers) control.    Putting your work out there.  Where do most people go?  Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc… Get your stuff there!  Okay, I’ve done that.  Allow room for comment.  Ask the reader to give you an idea as to what they want to see you cover.  And maybe throw a fun game in there while you’re at it.  Get the reader involved more than just reading your stuff.

C –is for Community and Conversation.  For Community, OJB basically just trotted out the “If you can’t beat them, join them” theory.  Then said you’re not going to beat them.  That was uplifting…  I do understand though, as an aspiring soccer journalist I have so much to compete with.  Will most people choose WSR over ESPN, highly unlikely.  I’ve always tried to be professional in my work.  Meaning getting stories up in the same time frame as the competitors, coming up with better ideas ON MY OWN.  It’s tough, there’s no denying that.

OJB says form communities.  What does that mean?  Make friends.  Ever heard the saying, “It’s all about who you know”?  It’s true.  I’ve tried to do that in my time.  It’s important and very useful.  No “contact” of mine has said “Hey, let me give you a job”, but they have all been very helpful in reaching my goal.  They help you with your work and introduce you to new helpful people.  After Adaptability, I think Community might be the next most important principle.

Conversation is a bit a tricky subject in my mind.  It delves into where we went wrong with online journalism, which ultimately hurt print journalism.  In the past, we as journalists faced a one-to-many audience.  With the internet, that has become a one-to-one relationship with the reader.  I’ll agree again.  There are times where I think one-to-many is still very much alive, like doing a game story for WSR.  But OJB doesn’t say one-to-many is dead, it’s just not prominent anymore.

Overall, I thought this was good.  There are somethings I found that I need to work on myself.  As well somethings that I know I’m already doing, which is good.  Now it’s a matter of applying these principles to my work.


One Response to “Reacting On Your Principles”

  1. This is a very good reaction post. I like how you use your own experiences to evaluate the usefulness of the information. The one thing that would have made your post better is direct links to the sections under discussion.

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