Belonging

On Writing for Online Publications

Newspapers whose online versions are not much better than electronic versions of what was delivered to houses won't be able to attract letter and commentary writers, and readers of same, who are interested in discourse.

By Michelle Martin
Published February 06, 2010

I've been doing freelance writing on the side for a while now, but I came into this hobby relatively late in life - around the time that newspapers started putting out online editions (well, actually maybe it was more like ten years after they made the leap into the world wide web), and took it up as it became steadily less lucrative.

Some writers have found blogging immediately financially rewarding, and have even parlayed it into best-sellers and movie deals.

For every overnight success, though, it seems there are thousands of other blogs that attract little or no attention. Besides, I tend to agree with Ryan McGreal when he says that everyone needs an editor, and I prefer to subject my words to the scrutiny of others.

Since there are other occupations in and out of our house, some more pressing and others more regularly remunerative, I'm OK with not making much money at writing commentary.

However, like many, I'll still write it and send it in to other people's publications from time to time.

We talk a lot about the reader experience when we talk about the future of media, but I wonder how much old media thinks about the experience of letter and op-ed writers, who provide newspapers daily with some free or inexpensive content in exchange for the satisfaction of being published.

Publication online in an upstart magazine can end up being the more satisfying experience to those free and cheap content providers who write for the sake of interest, and who don't really entertain any journalistic ambitions.

When an unsolicited article or letter to the editor is sent to a newspaper, the writer often has to wait to see it in print, and sometimes doesn't see it in black and white until everyone else's zest for the argument has died.

Hard copy newspaper op-ed pages may be laid out days in advance. Other sections are laid out even further ahead of time.

A dozen years ago, the Globe took an essay of mine for their Facts and Arguments page. When it was accepted, the day after I faxed it in, the editor was able to tell me the day it would be published - three and a half weeks later.

Contrast that with the experience of contributing an article to a frequently updated online publication, including the ability to engage with readers directly in the combox below to immediately address unreasonable criticism, clarify misunderstandings, and learn from those who both agree and disagree with you.

Compare the writer of a letter to the editor in a newspaper to an online commenter in a well-run magazine, who can post a polite argument as soon as an article appears, and who may even end up being answered directly by the author.

With devices like comment fading or comment voting, what you write still has to pass muster with others who share your interests and who can call you out on flawed arguments.

Newspapers whose online versions are not much better than electronic versions of what was delivered to houses won't be able to attract letter and commentary writers, and readers of same, who are interested in discourse.

I understand why it can end up this way: it costs editing and IT support salaries to maintain civil online commentary for a daily newspaper, so the only way to do it under the current business model is to control what's discussed and when.

No doubt there needs to be some degree of combox oversight. But it can't possibly be a recipe for good dialogue when the questions for daily discussion end up assigned like composition topics in a grade school classroom where everyone has brought in current events clippings.

That's fine for grade six students, but not for grown-ups.

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton. The opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2010 at 21:59:56

I agree that everyone needs an editor and that is why I share everything with the missus before I hit submit. However, I challenge Michelle's conclusion:

No doubt there needs to be some degree of combox oversight. But it can't possibly be a recipe for good dialogue when the questions for daily discussion end up assigned like composition topics in a grade school classroom where everyone has brought in current events clippings.

That's fine for grade six students, but not for grown-ups.

Michelle pretty much nailed IT down but isn't this how IT is supposed to be?

Clawhammer GIF Image

From Terry Cooke's speech at Citizen of the Year, Page 4, Part III - The Local Evidence, Dr. Kitchen - Education, which is available here; In one of this city's poorest neighborhoods, 50% of students will not graduate. These are potential readers of local online media and as such, articles and surveys must be written so as not to exceed their educational level or media expectations.

Hall Marks Reporter Image

In Canada, 42% of adults need some help with reading and writing, 50% need help with numeracy, and 68% need help with problem-solving (ALL Survey, 2005).

Doesn't the Mainstream Media have an obligation to write in such a way that the average reader can comprehend? Even if the average Hamiltonian MSM consumer is reading and writing at a sixth grade level, without any help these people will still be reading and writing like sixth grader's when they're all "Grown Up."

I agree there will never be any meaningful dialogue when our local MSM doesn't ask the deeper questions, but then again, how can we expect profound philosophical discourse from grade schoolers?

I rest my case. Sleepy Cat JPG Image

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