It's beginning to dawn on me (I know, I'm slow) that online journalism is more different from print journalism than I had imagined. At first I thought it was about getting to the point quickly, without dawdling in introductory paragraphs; and, generally writing more concisely with some hotlinks tossed in.
The only other difference I spotted was in the importance of headlines. In print they try to get you to glance down. In "e" we try to get you to click. Which is harder. Or we try to show up in search results, which requires even more pre-thinking.
(In my past life, I have many fond memories of giving speeches to groups of hard bitten journalists, to whom the concerns of marketing were as dust to be ground beneath their church 'n' state feet. "Please remember to use terms in your headlines that people might search Lexis-Nexis for!" I'd urge. The editorial staff would look suitably bleary-eyed and non-business-minded in response.)
This morning during a phone conversation with Nancy Robeke of Profnet.org (no, not the PRNewswire folks, a different group), the whole thing crystalized for me. It's not only about story length and searchability, it's about tone and personality.
Nancy's theory is that online people can't see your body language or hear your voice's enthusaism, so you need to be more personal with your tone to reach across that breach. But, coming from print which never had audio or visual before, I think it's just that people want content on their computers (and PDAs) to be slightly more personal than the official voice of hard copy.
Will this continue forever? Certainly not. Does this affect your online business (email open rates, clicks on your house ads, clicks on 3rd party ads) for now? Absolutely.
Of course, this adds a whole 'nother level of complication when it comes to hiring these days. Not only do reporters have to be good at investigating and writing, but they also have to have a personality that both comes across and appeals -- without turning into one of those egomaniacal deals in 24 months where you're paying through the nose salary-wise to keep their massive personal fan club on your readership list.
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