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creating meaning with content

Getting over blog stall, blog lag, or writer’s block

Every writer invariably suffers from the dreaded writer’s block. (These days, it would more likely be called blog lag or blog stall, which is what happens when a blogger gets writer’s block.)

Back when I was writing daily news, writer’s block wasn’t a viable option. Either turn in that article on time or find a new job. But rather than sit around and complain about the way things were, I’d like to offer up my patented tips to help you get through even the worst case of writer’s block. These strategies have always come to my rescue during my times of need and I hope they can do the same for you.

1) No excuses. Whatever the reason, the first rule of writer’s block is to not make excuses. So shut up!

2) Just write. Be it nursery rhymes, a shopping list, your favorite songs, the names of your yet-to-be-born children — just start typing or scribbling. The act of writing anything can lead to inspiration and may even lead you in a direction you hadn’t even anticipated.

3) Notes, quotes, and info. To me, a story isn’t just composed of flowing words, but also facts, figures, and quotes. So gather up your supporting information and put that in order. From there, you can easily insert additional text and before you know it, your article is complete.

4) Edit. The best writers are usually the best editors (though there are definitely exceptions to that rule). So just write anything. It doesn’t have to be perfect or remotely decipherable. You can always edit it later.

Sure, there are other tips, like Faulkner’s patented “drinking oneself into a stupor,” but I purposefully didn’t include those. What about you? How do you get through writer’s block?

Filed under: content, journalism101

Be a better media consumer

I recently spent some time with a friend who was outraged by Jim Cramer, host of the CNBC show “Mad Money” which has been described as, “[Occupying] some sort of netherworld between sheer entertainment and useful financial advice,” by Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz who profiled Cramer in his book The Fortune Tellers.

Appearing on a very heated episode of the Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” (clip here), the discussion with Cramer focused on whether he put entertainment before journalism and whether that was irresponsible, given the financial mess we’re in now. Of course, Cramer is no schlub when it comes to investing — his net worth lies somewhere between $50 and $100 million — but some say his advice unsound and that he knew the financial meltdown was on the horizon. But, in my mind, that’s not the real issue.

Don’t slap me when I say that one good thing to come of this financial mess is that we’re starting to question the media, whether we can trust the millionaires to tell us what to buy, and whether we can trust these age-old financial institutions to keep our best interests in mind. We are now reading the fine print.

To my friend I said, “Well, do you think everything you see on TV and read online is true?” She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow and I could tell she was wondering if it was a trick question. “No, of course not,” she said. And, I pose the same question to you.

Let me ask it in another way: do you buy everything that someone tries to sell you? If you want to buy a digital camera, do you purchase the first one a salesperson shows you without asking some questions or inspecting it thoroughly? Just as you wouldn’t blindly buy a digital camera, you must be a judicious consumer of information and news. Ask: What are the biases? Is there a political agenda? Who are the advertisers? Even objective journalists cannot be completely objective. (One of the first lessons learned in journalism school is that there is no such thing as objectivity in journalism.)

So as a consumer of the media, don’t be afraid to do a little fact checking. And, get a second opinion while you’re at it. It might just save you money and heartache down the road.

Filed under: journalism101, stories, , ,

Three tips to writing a press release (that will get noticed)

arghListen up, PR people: Having been on the receiving end of more than my share of horrific press releases, let me tell you what works and what journalists want to hear.

The job of a press release is to alert the media to some new information worth publishing, be it a new product, an IPO (back in the good, old days), a company going under (more likely these days), a new web site, and the list goes on.

Here are my three top tips for creating a press release that will get noticed:

1) Get to the point!
I can’t say this more clearly and I forbid myself from using more than one exclamation mark to drive the point home. Journalists receive countless press releases every day, not to mention numerous calls from PR peeps. The sooner you get to the point, the more likely it is for us to actually read your release. When crafting a release, use the journalist’s trusty sidekick, the “inverted pyramid,” to tell us who, what, when, where, why, and how right away in the first sentence. Save your poetry for someone who cares.

2) Just the facts.
No matter how excited you are about the product, please do not write, “Organization X is excited to announce a revolutionary new product.” And then proceed to use all manner of fluffy marketing speak to avoid providing any useful information until paragraph 17 of your release. Honestly, we don’t care if you’re excited. In fact, the more excited you are, the less likely we are to read your press release. Keep it to a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of approach and no one will get hurt.

3) Give us your deets.
Please include contact information, phone numbers, emails, even Twitter usernames — basically any and every way to get a hold of you. Everyone prefers different contact mediums so it’s best to include all of them.

Using these strategies won’t guarantee coverage, but it will make a journalist’s life easier and may mean a better chance at getting some press.

photo credit: seq

Filed under: journalism101, , ,

Creating successful messaging

You can use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Digg, Yammer, build a fancy web site, create a blog — all in the hopes of getting attention. And you may very well get some attention through those vehicles. The sad truth is that you will quickly lose those hard-earned eyeballs if your message isn’t clear. And if your message isn’t clear, it will fail.

faeryboots *away for the weekend!*

That’s why keeping content fresh, to the point, and easy to understand is the key to successful messaging. Remember, your readers don’t have hours to peruse your copy so don’t waste their valuable time with marketing hype and frilly language. Put the meat in the first sentence, delivering the “five W’s and an H” journalism punch right away — the who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Let’s look at two examples, shall we:

The wrong way: Company X is pleased to announce its latest mind-blowing invention that will change millions of lives. This revolutionary new product is one business users have always been searching for and will truly revolutionize business travel as we know it. We are thrilled to offer Product X to you at a low cost. Just click this link to find a list of fine retailers offering the product.

The right way: Geared toward business travelers who aren’t often near a wall outlet, Product X by Company X is a $59.95 solar-powered device that plugs into your USB port and extends the life of your computer’s battery by 60 percent. (Product X is now available online at Amazon.com.)

In the right way, readers get information upfront, stripped of all the nonsense. They can get in, get out, and buy the product. (If they want to read more, provide a link so they can.) In the wrong way, the wording is vague, sentences filled with useless adjectives, and it takes a long time to get to the point — if there is a point. Create content for someone in a rush and your readers will thank you by becoming customers. A novel approach!

So what are your big content questions? What sorts of head-scratchers do you come across when crafting content? Please ask your questions in the comments.

photo credit: faeryboots *away for the weekend!*

Filed under: content, journalism101, , , , , , , ,

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