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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Writing for the web is different: Print-style article needs re-focusing, rewriting and/or re-formatting | Mu Lin, Multimedia journalism and social media journalism

I agree with blogger Mu Lin that something doesn't compute in the Web article he's writing about. The headline and the first (lead) paragraph don't align; it's like the headline was meant for another article. But the article and its headline weren't written poorly for only the Web; they were also written poorly for print.

(It's ironic that the website posting the article and Lin are both in the journalism biz, where I also worked before transferring my skills and knowledge to PR more than 30 years ago.)

The "inverted pyramid" Lin mentions in his first paragraph is an essential writing method for useful, informative news articles; it's been a requirement for newspapers and broadcast news for decades, perhaps centuries.

With a matching, complementary headline, the first paragraph (the lead) in news stories highlights or summarizes the most interesting, most important point of the article. And the following paragraphs--in a declining order of interest and importance--add details to that first paragraph. Similarly, a news article can have internal inverted pyramids that provide details on other related topics.

And now, with the much-later advent of the World Wide Web, the inverted pyramid method is also essential for most writing for the Web. While in print, subheads can be used to separate different topics (for those internal inverted pyramids), websites can use both subheads and new linked pages for covering other topics.

Obviously, the author and headline writer for the article in Lin's blog did not agree on the most important point of the article. But someone--a key editor?--should have rewritten either the headline or the lead paragraphs to align their focus. (Or told the reporter to add more details to support the headline, as I get to below.)

If the article were really about the "five literacies" that the headline and Lin highlight, the lead should have been rewritten to focus on them. Unfortunately, the article focuses mostly on only one of those literacies (attention). So the headline is very misleading. 

As Lin suggests, I would be frustrated as a reader if I decided to read that article based on the headline--and the article doesn't provide the information I was expecting. Obviously, better collaboration between the headline and article writers--or a strong editor--would have improved the experience for readers.

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