In Defense of Magazine Writers
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 from it.

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.

“Change Fonts.” 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.

“Understand entry 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 shorter 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 research.” 

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 with you.

“Get comfortable with interactivity.” I 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!

Robert Moskowitz