Saturday, March 20, 2004

ACES-Readers panel

So what does this headline say to you? Study: Chill out, guys

To most of those on a panel of young (teens and 20s) we-wish-you-were-readers this morning, here's what it said: It's a story about studying, and don't get so stressed out about it.
What the story really was about: That men who explode with anger risk strokes and heart attacks.

And there's the problem when we try to connect with those we wish would read. In our attempt to talk in their language, we talk right past them. We violate the first rule of copy editing -- do your darndest to make sure the message sent is the same as the one received.

These yearly readers' panels are one of the best features of the ACES conference. They continually remind us that some of the conventions and shibboleths we observe are barriers. Over the years, these panels keep telling us, for instance, that some things we consider poor breaks in headlines just don't register with readers. Here was one from this session that didn't bother them:
EU imposes trade
sanctions on U.S.
What did bother them is that they by and large had no clue what the story was about.

If I may liberally borrow from moderator Alex Cruden's summation of the session:

  • Don't go overboard trying to use young people's language. It's seen as corny.

  • They want to know right away what it is about -- only sometimes will they read into a story.

  • Just clever heads don't cut it. They want and need information.

  • They generally skip the labels and go right to the main hed.

  • They get the use of quote marks in context, if it is familiar to them (they know 'Passion' refers to the film).

  • They're willing to look at the front page, but it has to interest them right away.

As one of the panelists, a young man in his 20s, said: Be clever, but clear.


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