Thursday, May 29, 2008

Twitter it for focus

In my Carnival of Journalism post the other day, I suggested putting some more effort into your digests to slim them down and give them some focus -- thus getting to the nub of a story more quickly and freeing up time to do other things.

Now, Craig Stoltz, former Washington Post writer and editor points to Twitter as a good tool for honing that skill as well. (via Amy Gahran)

I’ve been an editor for 20-plus years. But Twitter—that idiot desktop companion for the work-averse—has become my mid-career editing coach.

This may be due to how I use Twitter, at least some of the time: Less for top-of-brain me-spatter and more for tiny reports or editorials.

Fact is, it’s tough to convey any substance in 140 characters. You have to carefully weigh every word, letter and space. Even punctuation. ...

Okay, the prose is cramped, the comments elliptical. But writing substantial Tweets teaches a key journalism skill: Make every word count.

Bottom line is that the quicker you can tease out the essence of a story, the more time you have to do other things, like write that Great American Novel you've been meaning to get to.

My advanced editing class for the past two years has had to do 150-charactrer SMS summaries of stories. Of course, they find it easier on the "newsier" ones, but they learn a lot by having to wrangle some 800-word breathless feature into 150 characters in a way that might actually get someone to want to call up the Web page.

I started doing this after noticing at one of the larger papers I visit from time to time that its Web-publishing system, a widely available platform that we also are migrating to, has an SMS box in the upper right of the same screen used to do the usual copy dump. All the person has to do is fill in the SMS box with that short message and check a box, and the SMS is automatically sent to mobile subscribers when the story is filed to the Web.

In one of those light-bulb moments, I realized that if it was there, someone eventually was likely to use it -- and that it likely would end up being a job for the copy desk. So I figured I'd better start training them. Twitter was still relatively unknown and certainly not the news source it has become.

So here is where I need your help:
For the past few weeks, I've been trying to assemble a handout that lists best practices for "effective" SMS.
As we saw in the early days of the Web when it came to something similar for writing and linking, most of the initial stuff I've found is coming out of the commercial/advertising experience.

So lend your expertise -- let's crowd wisdom this thing -- in comments or backdoor, send me your best suggestions. I'll post the compilation here, and you'll be helping some young journalists learn a bit more.

(One thing we've found is that with those tough feature stories, it may be useful to resort to the "TV tease" type of format, such as: Local Jews say it's tiring to be asked if Hanukkah is the Jewish Chistmas. Barry Smith looks at the myth and the snappier comebacks. (132 characters, if I counted right) )

(As one commenter on Stoltz's blog noted, we probably want to avoid lapsing into leetspeak for now.)

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At 5/30/08, 12:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doing my rounds here daily... Nice blog. God Bless!!!


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