It seems a perceptively easy question, but I recall a friend telling me this phrase: “fish don’t know their surrounded by water”. It’s natural.
The media can often appear as a mass profusion of different styles and forms, and in many cases these forms are blurred. Blogging today is as natural as the Internet, or tweeting. But literature gives us ideas, or otherwise your own kinaesthetic experiences outside and then in the world of blogging may help.
First some context.
The executive function of news organisations is to produce news. This is a writing style that places the subject of the story at the nose of the story, followed by a structural form that is who, what, where how and why.
Each part of the story structure (paragraph) performs a function and conforms to the inverted triangle; the more the reader moves down the page the less important information appears.
The feature was adopted as a default by newspaper execs, though it had a newsy currency and urgency edge witnessed from celebrated Times War Correspondent William Russell reporting from the front line of the Crimean war.
The crafting of news into its technical structural form is relatively recent. Read ‘Why the “golden age” of newspapers was the exception, not the rule’ by By Heidi Tworek and John Maxwell Hamilton. The authors cite how
Andrew Pettegree’s award-winning book The Invention of News explains how newspapers took nearly three centuries to become the dominant method to provide news. Newspapers were invented in the 1500s but only became the main way to consume news in the late 19th century
Here comes Television
In television, its progenitors would learn from radio, newsreels, cinema and newspapers. News was immediate, but what could be done about content that was interesting but not necessarily time sensitive? In the 1940s-50s, the BBC’s pioneering Grace Wyndham Goldie came up with the idea of current affairs with programmes like A Current Affairs.
Some stories which could fit into a news programme, such as Newsnight or Channel 4 News and weren’t on the day news or were more than the customary, though arbitrarily chosen length of 2–3 minutes, were labelled features. They also didn’t follow the strict inverted triangle form.
In Newspapers, the feature tends to appear around the centre page. Structurally they can be like literary essays. Whilst they can be about anything, news execs try and hook the feature to something newsy in the air.
This Guardian piece here is a feature You can see it’s personalised, has more colour in its descriptions, and has a travelogue feel to it. There are quotes, just like a news piece and attribution e.g. “This area”, says Rovin…, but it’s written in an elliptical fashion. Sometimes if you take the first para away and start from the second, it seems to start like a news piece. That’s called a drop, or delayed lede (see here)
A delayed lede, also called a feature lede, is used on feature stories and allows you to break free of the standard hard-news lede, which must have the who, what, where, when, why, and how and outline the main point of the story in the very first sentence. A delayed lede allows the writer to take a more creative approach by setting a scene, describing a person or place or telling a short story …www.thoughtco.com
Blogging is a relatively recent activity to the media landscape. News people were at first sceptical and then darn right hostile to blogging (Read Jeff Jarvis). I didn’t start blogging until 2005, though I’d been on the net writing HTML code and building websites from 1998.
Wordpress, blogging.com and medium are around twenty years old or much less. They existed firstly mainly as outlets before the label “platform” came into vogue. Today blogging is as much a verb (doing) or adjective (description) for writers to express themselves.
Blogging initially existed outside the purview of mainstream and news media. You could write whatever you wanted write about, so long as people were engaging with the platform — that’s all publishers cared about.
When news people came across blogging, after overcoming their animosity they felt “ah well if it’s a free resource” and incorporated it into their work flow. Paul Bradshaw, a journalist with an uncanny nous for digital, now widely respected around the world, produced this, which he later updated that illustrated how blogging could serve journalism.
Now journalists could use blogging as a way to get a story out in draft mode. In reflection mode they could look at behind the scenes of a story (BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg does this) in a feature manner.
Yesterday I delivered a lecture about tech, which featured the use of mobile journalism e.g. mojo, and how journalism absorbs each new technologies and reduces it to conventions.
Mobile and Technology
In mobile, I showed how there’s nothing new with the selfie. This is a picture (above) of Robert Cornelius, then labelled a self-portrait, taken in October or November 1839. Wikipedia states on the back of the photo it’s written, “The first light picture ever taken”.
I pointed to Yusuf Omar, whose energy has catapulted him into conference centres and millennials with his use of mobile technology. This below was the first acknowledged use of mobile technology in news in the UK by Reuters.
Media’s competitive industry looks for those with the wind in the sails, but as I showed with early mobile phone stories from Homs, the technology comes in handy when being fleet of foot is necessary and you don’t have a professional camera crew. In 2016 then RTE’s head of tech Glen Mulcahy launched the MoJoConFest, which brought together storytellers and mobile phone practitioners.
Just as the mobile video cameras swept away audiences in the 1990s, and several of the mojos have been video journalists, the mobile phone as a recording device will one day come under threat. Someone, somewhere is looking at that disruptive technology now. For the meantime, everyone has one and hence the truer representation of democracy in filming is materialising.
In the lecture I also showed the views of one of the most prescient and respected media men Marshall McLuhan when he said this.
Back to Blogging
One of the main tech commodities that set journalism free was blogging ( read also Mark Deuze). So in the latter part of the lecture I was merely using a blogging platform to demonstrate the tenents of writing in a news or feature style. We looked at a lot of news sites, but feature sites show similar structure. I wasn’t looking at content per se, but structure and form.
So a brief recap, newspapers are a platform, blogging is a platform. Newspapers are generally specific in what they disseminate. Blogging can be about anything and its style can be anything. So for instance a reflection piece … I did this, did this, did this and this is what it meant and then this. In practice it’s a little more than a listicle, but if you go back to the earlier Guardian link, it can be written up in a feature way.
Why do we have to write a post or blog like a feature or essay, you’re entitled to ask, when a reflection, travelogue, essay, How to?, long form… I could go on…can be structurally written in any artistic style? I mean isn’t that what I was saying when I showed that Marshall McLuhan’s quote? You’re right!
Well it’s how consumers have come to converge on something structurally recognisable that many other outfits have adopted. I just randomly googled Vice Magazine’s blogs; not its news or feature stories but its blog .You’ll find much similar structure redolent of other news platforms. That’s not to say, blogs should all be written that way, but in part it boils down to audience expectations.
The content and form, depending on the culture, society, audience, era, house style meet certain expectations. On Medium, which is one of the best platforms because of the sheer diversity of subjects and it’s ad free, you’ll find much of what Jakob Nielsen advocates in writing such as scannable text and simple styles in widely accessed posts like this from the Writing Cooperative’s How to write for Medium.
However, as time goes by and you close in on zen status, don’t be surprised if you likely adopt the view that a good friend of mine, Dimitri Doganis says in this video.