a-quick-guide-to-long-form-content-online

A Quick Guide to Long-Form Content Online

A Quick Guide to Long-Form Content (WordCamp Toronto 2014)

This blog post is based on a presentation I did last weekend at WordCamp Toronto.

It’s widely believed that all online content should be short to contend with diminishing attention spans. In fact, a common online response to long-winded pieces of writing is “TL;DR” (or “Too Long; Didn’t Read”).

Yet, there are many vibrant examples of how long-form content is being consumed and shared online, and even driving traffic. Many of the most popular websites include long, in-depth content, and communities like Medium and Narratively are built around the idea that people crave long content – as long as it’s worth their time, obviously.

Keeping an audience hooked is a crucial aspect of long-form storytelling, but its something that requires specific strategies to keep them engaged.

This blog post will go over some of the fundamentals of long-form content, what stories are best suited to long-form, and what tools and techniques can be used in WordPress to create compelling long-form pieces.

Basically, the reason I think this is worth talking about is that different stories require different ways of telling them. Continue reading

Writing Articles Fast

Before I go into the specifics of writing non-fiction quickly, I want to mention that there are plenty of advantages to writing slow. It leads to a certain meditativeness and nuance that’s often impossible to achieve when writing for a quick deadline. Most of the best writing involves quiet contemplation, careful consideration and a seemingly endless process of editing and revision.

I’m a fan of slow writing – but I also realize that writing needs to get finished and get in front of an audience, especially in a reporting or blogging context. As a news writer, I certainly know that posting quickly is essential, and it’s a skill that takes some time to learn.

When seeking out advice on writing with clarity, purpose, and speed, there’s probably no one better than writer Roy Peter Clark (who I’ll refer to as “RPC”).

A few months ago, I binged on his various books and interviews. This post is a summary of the advice that has helped me the most. Continue reading

Of Interns and Employees: When should workers be compensated in creative industries?

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There’s been a lot of talk about unpaid internships in the past few weeks since the government has been cracking down on publications that use interns simply as unpaid labour. But look at a site like Craigslist and you’ll find daily postings for unpaid interns and volunteers in Toronto.

It’s a tricky subject because it’s obviously unfair that someone who’s put in years of schooling to work into a trade can’t even get paid minimum wage at a legitimate publication – or even an untested media startup. At the same time, the publishing industry is in tremendous turmoil as it copes with plummeting advertising revenues and new technologies that make planning for the future difficult.

I don’t really take a hard line on this.

I did an internship at the National Post, and it was a truly eye-opening experience that really helped prepare me for the work world. Also, I’m a supporter in getting together and doing things without a profit motive. But this usually falls under the banner of friends helping friends – and having fun doing it. Doing creative side-projects with friends is great, even if they don’t end up making money or helping our careers. I’ve done tons of this.

Now, it’s certainly possible to exploit your friends, but we usually stop before it gets that bad. When it comes to blogs and magazines, especially new ones, it’s important to know when seeking some help (which is fine) becomes exploitation. This is my perspective on the subject. Continue reading

5 Thoughts About Podcasts from PodCamp Toronto 2014

The podcast has come along way in the years between my first PodCamp in 2009 and this weekend’s PodCamp Toronto. Aside from them mostly being played on iPods, podcasts in 2009 also tended to exist simply as another channel for radio programs or a personal hobby.

In the years that have followed, many podcasts have started and ended. And a select few have served as a creative outlet for new producers that have taken the form to new creative levels. I’ve seen many comedians, professionals, enthusiasts, and journalists take the podcast form to new levels.

Of course, PodCamp Toronto’s scope has also widened to many interesting areas of technology and media such as open government, the internet of things, and online marketing.

PodCamp Toronto 2014 was a great event to attend, and I was very happy to be able to meet some very friendly and interesting people. In this post, I’ll try to relate some of the interesting things from PodCamp Toronto 2014 that relate to podcasts. Continue reading

The New Era of Music Journalism Requires Discovery

The idea that conventional journalism is more endangered now than in previous generations. Good journalism has never been conventional, and in all eras it has been shaped by new technologies and the demographics of the media we use to get our messages across.

It’s a given that we need to stay relevant to those new channels and those audiences. As writers and editors, we have to stay keen to what people want or need to know, and how we can deliver that to them.

But it sometimes becomes hard to balance this job with the higher principles of our profession that make it more than a good to be consumed but rather a public good.  Continue reading

A Novel Resolution for 2014: Make Your Own Criteria for Success

With 2013 coming to a close, many of us can’t help but think about making some big changes for the new year. But is the way we go about setting goals actually what makes us feel unsuccessful in meeting them?

A video from Marie Forleo showed up on my YouTube feed today in which she interviews Danielle LaPorte, who’s essentially a self-help guru for business-oriented folk. This isn’t something I’d usually be interested in – and I did find some of it grating – but LaPorte did bring up some very compelling ideas.

LaPorte says that it’s important to figure out how we want to feel rather than looking for outside validation when making goals. Instead of a goal like getting a promotion or making your first million, she says you might be more content working towards feeling good. 

Before you start draping yourself in velvet from head to toe

What she means is that it’s not about the goal. It’s about how you’re going to feel when you get there.

Sure, these external validations help us cope with creeping anxiety and insecurity, and some of these feeling help us get out of bed and do the things we need to do to live. But this frantic pursuit for outside validation often leaves one without the feeling of accomplishment because they’re not helping us feel what we were hoping to feel. 

LaPorte brings up a conversation she had with a Buddhist about the need to balance acceptance of how the world is, and striving to change what we can. Realizing we’re not entirely in control of our own destinies is an important thing for people to realize, but also that we ought to reign in other peoples’ control over our destinies. For instance, don’t tell me when I’ve had enough – I know when I’ve had enough.

You can’t always choose what happens in your life, but we you can choose how you feel and react to it.

I’m actually a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. I think self-reflection is important and if the new year spurs people to think how things can be better, then so be it. (And you could probably use some improvement yourself. Just sayin’.)

But it’s also important that people believe that they’re entitled to what they’re personally after – to feel good about themselves, not just have the outward symbols of success. The feelings could be security, happiness, connection, importance, and love. And it’s up to us to figure out how much these feelings mean to us.

Perhaps the best resolution we can make is allow ourselves to feel worthy to make the changes we need to make, and base them on our own criteria.

“Our way of working meant that the hugely talented writers we partnered with were only in a position to contribute content—not concept. They wrote copy, but we missed the opportunity to tap into the thinking behind it…Writers and designers are better together.”

- “What Does a Writer Know About Design?” by Ben Steele

Great writers don’t just put someone else’s vision into words, but help shape and refine that vision through language. -DH

With great power comes great…need for governance: Why the web hosting industry needs solid direction

Companies that provide web hosting services play a huge role in how free and open the Internet is. For how much a web host does to provide a platform for websites and media, it could also be providing your customer information to government bodies without you knowing…and without them being able to tell you. This is just one of the reasons web hosts need to have their concerns to be heard.

Read more about why and how to give voice to web hosts and their diverse issues and concerns in my latest article for the WHIR:  http://www.thewhir.com/web-hosting-news/giving-the-web-hosting-industry-a-voice

On Being Raw and Vulnerable Online

Many people I follow on blogs and on Twitter consistently produce witty and clever posts that fit into what’s acceptable of the form. They’re quick hits of delightful smartness that I can absorb, then move onto something else. This is the norm.

But not everything I find online is as clear-cut and pleasant as this, nor should it be.

In a recent Thought Catalog piece, writer Ryan O’Connell talks about the tendency and the danger of a nullifying uniformity among our online communications. Many of us are afraid of putting ourselves out there online and becoming a target for trolls. We’re rather fit into someone else’s notion of how we should behave and think rather than be raw and vulnerable.

O’Connell writes: “People hide behind their phones, they carefully curate their communication with other people, which makes honest moments few and far between.”

A fleeting tweet that satisfied our expectations reaffirms our sense of the world. It lets us move on. But it’s really these honest moments, the ones whose meaning isn’t obvious, that generally stick with us.

As I see it, writing about our lives and our world is basically an exercise in observation in which one draws attention to connections between people, places, ideas, and so on. We observe something, analyze it, then produce a report on our findings.

Comedy writer Hallie Cantor wrote a beautiful blog post on experiencing things without having to make them a joke

It’s easier to agree that something is funny than to agree that December feels like being in a concrete building that’s the highest point in a tiny state and daydreaming about some boy and listening to Charlie Parker. But when I can convince myself to remember that other people’s stories are interesting, I wish it didn’t have to be funny. I wish it were enough to just look.

Going “off-script” is not as easy for people to process as a neat, self-contained joke.

Many would assume that digital media is making our generation too narcissistic and/or soporific to make an eloquent and irreverent statement like Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Ginsberg wasn’t afraid to go to dark places, and be real in a time of great conformity.

Perhaps, though, our battles are more specific and nuanced to the point where no single voice can speak for a generation. Our blog posts and tweets might seemingly be “a dumping ground for every non-thought that crawls through their brain” and often falling short of a rally cry. But do we really need to compel action from people? It seems to me that it’s often enough just to be honest about what we’re thinking about and to show others our experiences and how we live our lives – even if that means posts about your mundane and unfulfilled life.

Rather than “build our brands,” we can be part of an internet that moves beyond what’s deemed acceptable or rational or appropriate. We need to fight our need to come across as calm, cool and collected (or simply put: normal). Otherwise, we’ll have an online world that conforms to what is expected, and never delivers what is needed.