Friday, March 21, 2008

What is wrong with Online Journalism?

In short, it's that journalists treat it as print. They're getting better, but there's still a heck of a lot of crimes against the series of tubes going on.

For a start, they write in long paragraphs. Journalists and citizen journalists alike don't seem to be able to grasp the concept that four or five sentences for an online paragraph is too damn long. People don't want to be staring at the same area of screen for too long.

You see, staring at a screen for too long will make your eyes sore, so that's why our natural reaction is to look away. Eye strain is something that a lot of journalists just don't take into account when writing an article.

Think about it. Have you ever read an article or forum post only to close the browser a minute or two later? Have you ever just looked at an article and gone to another page? A quick look at Google analytics will tell you that people spend only a minute and a half on any given blog post.

People are picky about their online writing. If they are going to spend too long reading it, they're just not going to read it. If they are going to read it however, they won't be wanting to spend all their time rereading that particular sentence over and over again.

The difference, in my opinion, between citizen journalists and established journalists is vocabulary. Citizen journalists seem to be hell bent on telling the world 'I have a vocabulary, tell me how smart I am', whereas established journalists take their audience into account.

They want to make their article accessible for as many people as possible. They will avoid jargon (unless writing for a specialist publication) and keep their language as simple. This becomes even more important when writing online, because rereading a sentence online is something that is just not done.

It's okay to admit that you pick up the Sunday paper, and have to reread sentences in certain articles. That's okay, everybody does it. A good journalist will try and make sure that you never have to reread a sentence, but in print it is forgivable.

Online, that's another story. Because people don't like to spend too long reading on-screen text, making the reader reread a line wastes valuable time and leads to eye strain. The same principle goes for structure and grammar.

Ideally, you want an article to flow. You want to be able to jump from one subject to the next with great bridges between paragraphs. Like I did just there, you want to let the reader know what to expect before they get there.

That's what a great article should be, a scenic drive. It should feel like nice Sunday drive into the countryside where the roads are smooth, and the banter between driver and passengers is just so.

Online journalism, at it's ideal, should be about simplicity. Yet, many people seem to think that because they're writing for the World Wide Web that they have to show how clever they are. If you want to show me that you're clever, create witty and insightful comment using simple language.

Just as the best meals are simple feasts using hearty ingredients, so should online journalism be about creating masterpieces out of the bare essentials.

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