In Defense of Magazine
By Robert Moskowitz
Written in rebuttal to:
I find this information
about as useful
as instructions on how make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I mean,
yes, this is good information, but no, no decent magazine writer who
has used the Internet for at least a few months will learn anything
Let's take it point by point:
"...most find it hard
adapting to writing on the internet". Are you
kidding me? In a room full of 100 magazine writers, how many find it
hard to write for the 'Net? What is your source for this information? I
know a lot of magazine writers, and not one of them has had the
smallest problem writing material that works great for the 'Net. They
may have problems accepting the miniscule rates of pay that 'Net
publishers seem willing to pay for their content. But "find it hard
adapting to writing on the internet" -- I don't think so.
Oh, this is a really tough one. The
author apparently believes magazine writers have some kind of
techie-block that prevents them from learning how to change fonts in
their word processing software, and/or their webpage-building software,
and/or they lack any friends or coworkers who can do this for them once
an article is written in a worthless serif font. Let the record show
that this article is itself published on the 'Net in a serif font.
What’s the appropriate take-away from that?
“Cut up the text.”
Oh, yes. In the
author’s estimation, this is another difficult concept and
intricate task that is way beyond the skills of most magazine writers.
Imagine: you actually have to know how to press
“enter” once or twice in a row after every few
sentences in your writing. And then you actually have to do it. Phew!
Get the massage oil, Gladys, I’m in real pain here.
points.” This is the first
sensible notion in the article, but why does the author think
“entry points” are beyond the ken of most magazine
writers? Any magazine writer worthy of the name can write a great lede,
lots of decks and call-outs, headlines, sub-heads, and paragraph
labels. The concept of “entry points” has the exact
same meaning on the ‘Net as it does in magazines:
It’s the first thing a potential reader may see, and it
better be interesting.
By the way, I find it
strange that this author
thinks people read magazines only from front to back. How many of you
flip from the back to the front looking for something interesting? How
many of you read the page to which a magazine naturally opens because
of blow-in cards or stapled offers or changed-weight papers or other
physical factors that make the magazine more likely to open there than
anywhere else? How many of you insist on reading a magazine by turning
to the table of contents (often 20 or more pages in from the cover and
many times very difficult to find) and go from there, as opposed to
just turning or flipping pages in search of something interesting?
“Understand the important
relationships that your writing
creates.” I’m not sure what this actually means, so
maybe I’m not capable of writing for the ‘Net. Or
maybe the author either doesn’t know what he’s
talking about, or can’t explain it very well in writing. If
he’s talking about “links,” which seems
to be the case, is he really trying to make the point that magazine
writers can’t handle the task of including links in their
writing? Or that they aren’t capable of collecting some
reference material and submitting it along with their article?
(Isn’t that the same kind of work required for writing some
kinds of printed “sidebars?”)
And in this section
the author includes a second point: “Write
articles.” How this relates to
“relationships” is not obvious to me.
Doesn’t this suggestion fit better with the previous
discussion on “entry points,” since the author
suggests that shorter articles can lead readers to other valuable
content? Maybe what we‘re seeing here is an author unable to
parse his own text into unified, homogeneous topics. Writing is
thinking, and if your thoughts are not well organized and sequenced,
your writing won’t be, either. Most magazine writers are
pretty good at this kind of thing. Some web writers, apparently, ...
not so much.
“Watch your metrics.”
Metrics is just measuring,
and in this case, measuring the audience. Is there a successful
magazine writer who is not concerned with garnering the largest
possible readership for his/her articles? And why does the author
believe metrics are beyond the grasp of most magazine writers? Where
does the author get the idea that “journalists are supposed
to concentrate on writing, with very little access to audience
Actually, one of the first
rules that most
magazine writers have mastered is the art of writing to their readers,
using tools such as vocabulary, style, structure, and rhetorical arts
aimed directly at the intended audiences’ interests and
ability to understand. Yes, the ‘Net offers faster and more
accurate and detailed feedback on who is reading your work than most
magazines. But that just gives magazine writers a leg up on other
writers who are less attuned to the importance of keeping your audience
“Get comfortable with
don’t have a puppy from Tbilisi. Does that make me incapable
of writing for the ‘Net? More to the point, most magazine
writers have received letters from their readers, often with a terse
note from their editor (the same one who approves their paychecks!)
indicating the importance of responding ASAP to this feedback without
either pissing off the magazine’s subscriber or admitting
that your entire article was worthless. Feedback is the magazine
writer’s middle name. Whether you find feedback
“jarring and hurtful” or not has nothing to do with
your ability to craft a great article, and even less to do with how
well that article will fly on the Internet.
In short, there’s not much of value in this piece. And there
is absolutely no support for its thesis: “most [magazine
writers] find it hard adapting to writing on the internet.”
The instructions are relatively sound, like those for making a peanut
butter sandwich (Get some bread, spread some peanut butter, then some
jelly) but I seriously doubt there are many people getting paid to
write for magazines who will find these ideas either new or difficult.
The author has seriously underestimated the skills and abilities of
most working writers. But maybe he got paid for it. If so,
it’s not a complete waste of effort -- as any magazine writer
will tell you.
P.S. I’m not usually such a curmudgeon. But sometimes
it’s necessary to label the obvious for what it is!