The other night I was at a journalist mixer and an out of work personal finance magazine feature writer was talking about how their brand of writing (3000-4000 word well-reported features, smart issues writing) didn’t translate for a web audience and that’s why they were out of a job.
Really? With #longform being such a trend, you think there’s no market?
The person talked about how web publishers just want dumb repetitive traffic… top 10 this, confessional that.
I countered that at Consumerist I often started with the hard useful piece of information (the pill) and then figured out how to make it enticing to readers (the ice cream). For instance, I wrote a bunch about mandatory binding arbitration and figured out how to build reader interest in the coverage. Hearing stopped unemployed journalist in their tracks and they grudgingly gave me props for figuring out how to get people to read about such a “boring” issue. Yeah, it’s not going to be on the top of Buzzfeed but there’s more than one way to skin a lolcat.
Indeed, one of my favorite pieces we did was by then associate editor Alex Chasick, who turned mandatory binding arbitration into an interactive Choose Your Own Adventure hypertext. I also surfaced the story of a woman who was on a one-man brigade against mandatory binding arbitration after black mold introduced by shoddy builder workmanship destroyed her dream home (think ceilings falling in on granite countertops) and the contract clause prevented her from suing the developer. It’s a gripping story on its own right that allowed me to explain how mandatory binding arbitration works, then demonstrated how it played out in a real, human story.
So web audiences aren’t stupid. They want what any reader wants, a good story, well-told. You may have to do a better job of selling it to them with your hook, headline and first two sentences, but those are just as much a part of the tradecraft.