Is Your Audience Fast-Forwarding to the 30% Point of Your Content?

CONTENT CAREERING

FFLet me know if this has ever NOT happened to you.

In your own reading you’re tooling along until you come across a headline that promises instant benefits – say, “7 Tips on Vacationing in Hawaii for Less Than $1000.”

Yes! you think. Tell me how! And then you start to read the lead:

“Emily Smith works a stressful job as a nurse in Blytheville, Mo. Rarely does she get a chance for a getaway vacation, what with her job; her home responsibilities; her husband Gaylord; her three children Vera, Chuck and Dave…”

Huh? you think. Who cares about Emily Smith?

You’ve just been struck by the superfluous lead – the personal anecdote many journalism consultants have espoused as a way to “humanize” a (what they might think to be boring) story. In other examples you might be offered a juicy little bon mot – a witty bit of sociological or historical observation to open things up. In this case you’ve also been had by author-throat-clearing.

When I come across leads like these I want to pull out my red grease pencil, slice an “X” through the first three paragraphs and bark at the unseen author (from under my editor’s green eyeshade, of course): “Just get to the point!” Not that these little openers are always mind-drags, mind you. In the right situations they might be just the thing to pull the reader in. But more often than not, you’re probably better to cut to the chase and deliver on the headline’s promise quickly.

By the way the propensity of content types to be long on the windup is not isolated to text, as has been noted by online trolls and digerati. In video the Wadsworth Constant is based on the phenomenon that the first 30% of most videos are perfunctory and of little value. Such leather-lunged videos are perceived to be so widespread, in fact, that there is a “bookmarklet” that jumps a viewer straight to the 30% point of any YouTube video.

Are our audiences skipping to the 30% point of our content? Let’s hope not. But the next time I’m nipping-and-tucking a story into a small space, I won’t necessarily start at the end of the story or even the middle. I’ll start at the beginning.

(And maybe I needed to have done that with this very post…)

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7 Ways to Sabotage Your Editorial Career

CONTENT CAREERING

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You’re weary of b-to-b media. The pay ain’t that great and you’re working harder than ever. Looking for that push to get you out the door? Follow this plan and you’ll be in graduate school by fall semester, guaranteed.

(1) Wage a silent war with your audience about what they really should be reading. Never mind web and readership metrics showing that (for instance) nuts-and-bolts, how-to pieces are among your most-read content. Give ‘em “thought-leader,” “industry issues” articles and more of ‘em. It’s your journalistic duty.

(2) Leave the digital stuff to the digital people. Everyone knows print still pays the bills around here. There may be a day when digital passes print (Ed. note: if it hasn’t already), but with any luck you’ll be retired by then. Anyway, it’s not something you need to worry about today.

(3) Leave the sales stuff to the sales people. Hey, if those guys in sales can’t sell ads around our excellent editorial, that’s their problem. And they expect you to forward news about marketing plans and new product launches? Pssssshhh. That’s privileged information.

(4) Spend a lot of time on developmental projects with big profiles but minimal audience exposure. Hey man, it’s a quality-versus-quantity thing. Through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn you can reach hundreds of key influencers who actively follow your work versus thousands and thousands of anonymous readers who never respond. Plus, building an iPhone or iPad app would be so awesome.

(5) Vocally define “content” solely as text that has been produced by a qualified journalist. You’d like to open the floor to your audience but how would you ever possibly hope to edit and filter it? Anyway, in the time it would take you to requisition, hunt down and edit an industry-written article you could just write it yourself.

(6) Present video and audio as just a Q&A. Isn’t online media novel and interesting enough in its own right? Anyway, you really don’t have time to edit the footage because you have another magazine issue to get out.

(7) Assert that everything you need to know you learned in j-school! College taught you eternal truths. What was true then is equally true now.

Career-Sustaining Thoughts. Okay, so maybe there’s just a tinge of sarcasm in all this. And an editor conceivably could do every one of these things and remain employed. So let’s turn this faux advice upside down and take away some career-sustaining (dare I say career-enhancing?) thoughts.

  • Editorial-mission reporting will always be important, but your audience is reading certain things and not others for a reason. Follow it.
  • You can no more abdicate emedia know-how to the ones-and-zeroes crowd than you would turn over your magazine to the printing-press guys. Harness online media to its full journalistic potential.
  • It’s a battle in the trenches today to get ad support for business media. Every hand is needed on deck – including editorial. This goes for “special sponsored” projects too. Online media has elevated the role of content in marketing. Even if you’re not the one actually producing so-called “advertorial” content, bring a journalistic eye to help shape it. Everyone will benefit.
  • Social media like Twitter and Facebook are wonderful amplifiers for the journalist’s voice. And mobile apps and tablet editions will be de rigueur soon enough. But until your metrics show a goodly chunk of your online audience is coming to you through mobile and social rather than through garden-variety organic, email and search, you’ll be better off spending the majority of your time on the intrinsic quality of your core content and using social media sparingly for outbound promotion and inbound audience participation. As for mobile, seriously consider an app when mobile’s share of inbound website traffic reaches 10%. The key point: nudge your audience, yes, but move when they move.
  • The very media enterprise that employs you is in business to improve the professional lives of its audience members. Why not give your audience a voice? It would be an egregious omission to exclude them, wouldn’t it? Plus, bringing in well-respected industry voices can do nothing but enhance the relevance of your own product in your own industry.
  • We need more quality in video, even if it means less quantity (especially if it means less quantity). Imagine if you’d had a magazine stringer who consistently passed off lightly edited interview transcripts as full-fledged articles. Same problem with plain-vanilla Q&A videos that consist of two or three minutes of talking heads looking slightly off camera. Audiences crave narrative, storytelling and context; give it to them in video and audio, just like you do in print.
  • Many j-schools are doing an admirable job of catching up with the online information revolution, but the sad fact is that much college communications curricula still is geared to dying print and TV/radio models. Filmmaking, literature, music, the graphic arts, and animation will inspire and teach you as much about the rhythms and techniques of capturing and sustaining an audience as the old “if it bleeds, it leads” dogma ever could. Keep your eyes and ears open.

Here’s hoping you keep and enjoy this career in business media — now and in the years to come.