WordCamp how to blog like an old school journalist

On Saturday I gave a presentation to WordCamp Auckland 2014: How to blog like an old school journalist. Here’s a link to my slides. You can open it full-screen:


Blogging isn’t the same as old-school journalism. It’s less about recording facts and more about ideas or experiences. Blgging has influenced modern journalism — the lines between the two forms of writing are blurring. Yet there are still lessons worth learning from the old way of doing things.

Much of the material is a shortened form of posts elsewhere on this site. You might like to explore the following:

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press.

Murder your darlings.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

Paul Bradshaw at the Online Journalism Blog says the BBC gave online journalist three things.

He mentions the editors’ blogging and the way the BBC opened up its back-end to developers. Both matter.

His first item, the BBC’s web writing style, may prove more important in the long-term.

The organisation’s online news writers write crisp, tight news copy. They get right to the point, line up the important facts, then get out-of-the-way.

Bradshaw says the BBC learnt to write tight news stories when it ran Ceefax – a teletext information service which predates the internet. Ceefax allows little in the way of graphics and only 24 lines of 40 characters. Journalists had less than 200 words to tell their story.

Sharpening skills on Ceefax before the internet, gave the BBC a head start over other written news outlets which had become wordy thanks to larger newspapers.

Bradshaw says: “Even now it is difficult to find an online publisher who writes better for the web.”

The online team is even better at writing news headlines. Its editors compress the gist of an entire story into just five or six words. Most headlines fit inside that Ceefax page width of 40 characters.

Sheldon Nesdale offers five tips to help newcomers to web writing.

Nesdale is a marketing consultant. So his approach to web writing differs from mine.

When I wrote  Writing for the web in 300 words I called on the lessons I first learnt as a newspaper journalist almost 30 years ago.

Nesdale’s How to write for the web attacks the same subject from a marketing and sales point of view.

The two approaches overlap. We both prefer snappy, well sign-posted text. We both pay attention to the organisation of words on a page.

There’s only one piece of Nesdale’s advice I disagree with. And then only partly. He starts by telling readers to write long descriptive headlines to help skimmers find their way to the story.

I say skilled writers should do the same job with tight, smartly written headlines.

If you’re not a skilled writer, then by all means use long descriptive headlines. But think how you can compact the same meaning into fewer words.