Lessons in media from my first year as a working “adult”

Lessons in media from my first year as a working “adult”

I’ve been working now for just over a year and thought that now would be the right time to try and log some interesting lessons that I’ve learned during that time. I also want to ask one question that I still don’t know how to answer.

Lessons I’ve learned…

Writing formulas are hard to avoid, but often don’t translate between mediums. I believe one of the biggest mistakes multi-platform content producers encounter is the absent-minded belief that a story can simply be ported from one medium to another.

Writing formulas that work well to tell stories on television are similar to that of typographic storytelling, but cannot be absentmindedly copied from script to content manager. The inherent format of television where two people often deliver every item of content (anchor=news, reporter=story) leads only to needless repetition when scripts are ported into a medium meant to be consumed by readers rather than viewers.

I’ve found that each reporter and producer has a writing style best suited to the medium, and formula, they’re habitually asked to fill. For example, my writing style has changed significantly as I began to focus on web copy rather than television scripts.

Readers can tell when there is a change behind the scenes. When I started at my job, and when every other web content producer since has started work, I’ve noticed an increase in comments posted to the website. I believe that our readers are aware that there was a change in our personnel, even though we made no announcement of that fact.

I believe that part of this is due to the fact that new employees write with a unique style not previously introduced to the consumers. Even their mistakes and bad habits are unique. Readers become as habituated to expecting certain things, even imperfections, as the writers are habituated to making them

Even on a website that uses no bylines to identify the writer, readers can tell something has changed – and they respond to it.

Hyperlocal tipping points. In every market there are areas that matter in the media, and those that matter significantly less. When news, even minor news, happens within those imporant locales, it will get significantly more traffic than the equivalent story in another area. These areas either resonate with consumers because it is a place that many frequent, or it is a location large enough to reach the tipping point – the point at which content spreads like a virus.

These points reinforce themselves within the editorial toolkit of media gatekeepers who operate under the expectation of buzz-worthy areas and reinforce the importance of content from them. This is a result of the business of news, that it is funded by advertisers who want to reach the maximum number of consumers.

…And my question: How can you teach, or even define, news sense?

I’ve heard two ways to identify newsworthiness. The first, and more specific method, is the “NIT PIC” method, standing for Necesity Interest Timelyness Proximity Impact and Consequence. This offers a semblance of a litmus test, but offers no hard and fast method for determining if a story passes. How much weight should each be given? How many points must it satisfy?

The other method I’ve heard, which is what I subscribe to, is to simply ask “Is it Sexy?” Obviously sexiness here is an abstract term, and therein lies the problem. Some people get it, and others don’t. Sometimes even those who usually get it, don’t.

I could spend as much time trying to define sexiness as a mathematician could spend listing the decimals of pi, but I would never be able to definitively draw a line and teach someone that good stories will always fall on one side.