A panel of journalism educators and Web-reporting pros gave SPJ National Convention attendees a short course in Web writing. The basic advice is this: write like a journalist.
• Keep the most important information up top. Use the inverted pyramid format. • Write short. Three hundred words or less for the primary story. • Keep it simple. • Polish headline-writing skills. Readers are only an instant away from the back arrow.
• Provide links to additional information. • Think multimedia. Visuals, video, audio, and animation can make your story more informative. • Think big. Your story is a project, and it’s not limited to a 10-inch news hole. • Forget linear storytelling. The web is “multi linear” and readers can enter or leave your story at any point. • Read the Web. Find sites and writing you like, and learn from that. • Use subheads, bullet points and other simple graphic devices to help the reader through your story.
INVOLVE, ENTERTAIN READERS
• Talk WITH your readers, not AT them. Remember interactivity. • Have a conversation with your readers. Ask them to comment on your story. • Turn readers into sources. Trade information with them. • ALWAYS answer your e-mail. • Write bright, interesting, informative and entertaining stories.
Alan Boyle, MSNBC.com science editor, defined the “three Cs” of Web writing: • Cumulative – readers will keep coming back to your site for updates on an interesting story. • Compartmentalized – present information in short “chunks.” • Communitarian – depend on Web users to help report or add to your stories. John Markman, MSN Money senior editor, said the Web didn’t kill the anecdotal lead – it just made it tighter. He recommends no more than a one-paragraph anecdotal lead, including a one-sentence story summary. David Carlson, director of the Interactive Media Lab at the University of Florida, recommended that writers write for the Web first and then rewrite for other media. “Usability studies show that ‘re-purposed’ Web content was 70 percent less readable than non-re-purposed content. Start with the Web content,” he said. Melinda McAdams, a University of Florida journalism professor, described a student Web writing assignment that gave a succinct, representative picture of the lives of foreign students at the school. “The toughest thing was to take separate assignments – each reporter interviewed five foreign students – and to weave those interviews into a coherent structure. Student reporters developed individual pages for each foreign student, each country represented and a personal page allowing them to present a personal viewpoint of the assignment. This structure allowed readers to jump in at any point and browse through the information until they had a good understanding of what it was to attend school in a foreign country. “Each component was limited to 300 words,” she said.
George Bukota provides public relations and industrial journalism services for clients in aviation, biotechnology, chemicals, food processing, processing and sensing instruments, plastics and refining. He has more than 25 years experience in PR and journalism, including work with The Associated Press and CBS Radio News.