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Columns and blogs 2010


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A 2010 update of my lecture on column and blog writing
Contains useful tips on style

Published in: News & Politics, Education
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Columns and blogs 2010

  1. 1. Columns and blogs<br />Advice for the beginning enthusiast<br /><br />Martin Hirst<br />
  2. 2. Columns and blogs: same beast, different spots<br />Appear in print<br />A formality of language<br />Can have a variety of purpose<br />Can vary in tone and voice<br />Is stand-alone<br />Is text and still images or graphics<br />Is ephemeral<br />Published online<br />More personal language<br />Can have a variety of purpose<br />Can vary in tone and voice<br />Can link to other content<br />Can have multimedia content embedded<br />Has longevity<br />Columns<br />Blogs<br />
  3. 3. The purpose and the point<br /><ul><li>To convey the writer’s opinion
  4. 4. To offer a fresh perspective on the news of the day
  5. 5. To argue a point and convince readers
  6. 6. To challenge accepted wisdom
  7. 7. To amuse and/or entertainthe reader
  8. 8. To validate the writer’spoint of view
  9. 9. To validate the reader’spoint of view</li></li></ul><li>Never be boring<br />In all cases there is one cardinal sin; being boring.<br />The columnist must have something to say and appealing style that captures the reader and demands a reaction…<br />Everyone has one column, maybe six, in them.<br />But column writing week in and week out, let alone at more regular intervals, is demanding professional work.<br />[Al Morison, Intro, p. 309]<br />
  10. 10. Types of columns<br />Opinion piece: a regular spot in the publication for commentaries on the issues of the day<br />The journalistic column: the accent is on news and analysis, colour, background and context<br />Personal: viewpoints and opinions that don’t always or necessarily relate to news or topics of the day<br />Gossip: amusing insights about public figures, or snippets from the social diary<br />
  11. 11. The opinion column<br />A regular spot – usually in a newspaper<br />Focus on news agenda – informed commentary<br />Express a strong point-of-view<br />Some are regular:<br />Finlay McDonald<br />Michael Laws<br />Guest spots – notable individuals<br />Academics, politicians, experts<br />
  12. 12. Journalistic column<br />Typically weekly<br />Often about key issues of the day<br />Senior reporter<br />Makes a point about actions of central figure in the news<br />Less formal style than news<br />Establishes reporter’s credibility over time<br />
  13. 13. Personal column<br />Personal columns have a wide range of topics<br />Wine, food, family, children, sport, film, theatre, television<br />Review-style columns are common<br />Rely on a particular “device” for effect<br />Often attempt to be humorous<br />IMHO this genre is overdone and most of the time lazy<br />
  14. 14. Think it through<br />Find a topic(current events, cultural/social/political ‘happenings’, topical controversies, wry observation of the ‘human condition’)<br />Use your voice(obviously active, but what else…)<br />Use your imagination(devices to add interest: humour, quotes, anecdotes and personal experiences DON’T OVER DO IT!)<br />Invite readers in(art of conversation)<br />Write for yourself(If you’re not interested and excited, why should we care?)<br />
  15. 15. How do you write a column?<br />Start with an idea – a point you want to make<br />Gather the facts<br />Outline a structure – develop a plan<br />Which bit of the story will you start with?<br />Do you want to make a dramatic entrance<br />Can you capture the reader with humour or shock-value<br />The opening par must have a good ‘hook’<br />Know where you want to go – define your end point<br />The conclusion is as important as the lead<br />Remember it’s not the inverted pyramid<br />Hour-glass structure or more narrative style is acceptable<br />Use lively and entertaining language – but use it well<br />
  16. 16. Choosing a topic<br /><ul><li>A column or blog can be about practically anything
  17. 17. Select something that you are knowledgeable about,or willing to learn about
  18. 18. Be prepared to do some research – facts are important to back your opinions
  19. 19. If you have a passion or special interest – how can you make it relevant and exciting
  20. 20. Establish your personality early on
  21. 21. Pick something that’sfun for you</li></ul>Comment is free, but facts are sacred.<br />Charles Prestwich Scott, editor Manchester Guardian 1872—1929 <br />
  22. 22. Structure<br />Lead – unlike a news story, a columnlead can be delayed or less formal<br />Tell the reader what it’s about<br />Background / justificationfor your point<br />Take the reader someplace else<br />Explain / present your newinformation and insights<br />Expand on detail<br />Complete the circle<br />Finish with a twist<br />
  23. 23. What is your ‘voice’<br />A writer's “voice” is what we “hear” in our head as we read.<br />This helps us to form a mental image of the writer and their point of view.<br />Our response to the voice also shapes our response to the text.<br />“Like” / “dislike”<br />“Agree” / “disagree”<br />Mode of address:<br />First person “I”<br />Second person “You”<br />Third person “Someone else”<br />Consistency:<br />Mode of address<br />Distance<br />Formal / informal<br />Ethos / Logos / Pathos<br />Author’s viewpoint<br />Appeal to reason<br />Appeal to emotion<br />(author reader)<br />
  24. 24. A sense of style<br />clarity and correctness of the Strunk and White kind<br />style as a synonym for flair or verve(colour, movement, action, vocabulary, insight)<br />that which is distinguished and distinguishing about a particular writer<br />style has a strong unconscious element(but you need to think about it!)<br />expression in subtle deviations from the norm that somehow suit the way you see the world and feel comfortable expressing yourself(Ben Yagoda – Poynter interview)<br />
  25. 25. Blogging for beginners<br />NZ journalism students who regularly visit blogs<br />A blog is a personal diary <br />A daily pulpit <br />A collaborative space <br />A political soapbox <br />A breaking-news outlet<br />A collection of links<br />Your own private thought<br />Memos to the world<br />(<br />NZ journalism students who maintain their own blog<br />Hirst & Treadwell (2010)<br />
  26. 26. Getting started<br />Blogs are not too different from columns<br />They are slightly easier<br />Self-published<br />Good “sand pit” to develop writing skills and voice’<br />A social activity with friends or colleagues<br />Reputation<br />Establish yourself as a professional <br />Income<br />Promoting yourself as a freelancer <br />Social activity<br />Sharing ideas and opinions?<br />Development<br />Practice your writing and develop a voice?<br />Blogging is easy and fun<br />What is your blog for?<br />
  27. 27. Ideas and content<br />Keep a list of ideas – make notes on news stories etc like you would in a story notebook<br />Identify a need – do some research<br />Imagine a reader – who are you talking too?<br />Get out of the echo chamber – be original<br />What matters to you – express your passion<br />Be topical – timeliness<br />Don’t overload the post with too many ideas<br />
  28. 28. Writing and linking<br />Remember the headline is crucial (post title)<br />Controversy and debate<br />Ask a question<br />Key words (nouns / verbs) + power words (adjectives/description and emotion)<br />Humour, wit, quips and puns<br />Leads and openings – think like a journalist<br />Hook<br />Answer your question<br />Tease – anecdote, etc<br />Paint a picture<br />Details and facts / colour and movement<br />Use lists and examples<br />
  29. 29. Deepening the reader experience<br />Use analogy (‘like’), anecdotes and metaphor<br />Case studies<br />Use informed opinion<br />Discuss different points of view (answer critics)<br />Add quotes<br />Do an interview<br />Add links to relevant content<br />Illustrate – original photos are good<br />
  30. 30. Exercise your brain<br />Regular writing exercises improve boththinking capacity and eye-hand coordination<br />Writing often helps sharpen your focusand establish your voice or point-of-view<br />Start with things your know about<br />Read widely and often<br />Read good writers, analyse their styleand structural tricks<br />Develop an interest or specialitybased on your own passions<br />Build your expertise<br />Experiment with different styleson the same piece<br />