Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bleacher Report U - a great resource

Yep, it's brutal. It's pointed.

And Bleacher Report's new training site, Bleacher Report U, and its other editing resources really should be part of your tool box if you are teaching journalism in a digital age.

Bleacher Report U is designed to help train all those "content contributors" on which it relies for cheap/free labor. (There, I said it.)

The sports site makes no bones about it - it's out to get eyeballs and clicks. Which, of course, includes the inevitable clickwhore slide shows.

But if you aren't exposing your students to this brutal reality of 21st century journalism, you're shortchanging them. You have to sign up for the training, but just copying the module descriptions and goals into a Word doc and handing it out ought to be enough for a good conversation starter.

More valuable, however, are the other writing and editing resources available outside of the B/R-U structure. I'd encourage you to look at a few of these and check out the internal links that will open up even more (some have been around for a couple of years and I am just finding them):

  • The art of the headline - Ryan Alberti's plain-spoken guide
  • If you find the copy-editing cheat sheet, you will also find an invaluable link to a Google doc that shows "before" and "after" versions of headlines. Lots of grist there.
  • There is a full editing case study centered on one article and its revisions. Lots of good stuff (a few minor things I don't agree with, but darn few).
  • The B/R blog entry on prose style with this good opening sentence: On the Internet, form IS content. HOW you write changes the very substance of WHAT you write, because it changes the way readers process and understand your work. 

There are lots of sites out there with plenty of helpful tips on Internet writing, SEO, etc., but this is one of the best at integrating it all and not pulling punches.

One thing I especially like is how it reinforces the idea that copy has to be "centered" not only rhetorically but "spatially":

Rhetorical centeredness speaks for itself. A piece should have a coherent overall structure, with an attention-grabbing introduction and a point-making conclusion. Tangents are okay in small doses, but your job as an editor is to keep a piece progressing at a steady pace. This is delicate work, obviously. The only way to master the craft is to practice it.

As for “spatial” centeredness: It’s important to maintain visual and structural balance in the text. Most pointedly, this means (a) breaking long paragraphs into shorter ones and (b) creating single-sentence “anchor” paragraphs where appropriate. 

Yeah, nothing really new here,  but nicely put and emphasized. This is something that needs to be emphasized much more in print, too. I've always called it "visual grammar." It's one of the reasons that even when we went to computers, editors often printed off longer stories - they could "see" where there might be problems.

Newsrooms in general could learn a lot from this stuff. Read it closely, and, whether you agree, disagree or detest some of the dog-eat-dog tone, for me it highlights many of the reasons traditional newsrooms still struggle online. If they adopted some of these ideas for "print" as well, not only would those pages be friendlier, but shoveling the print version online might work better too.

I recall listening in on a state press association teleconference a while back as editors and publishers debated what training to offer. At one point, it was suggested I do a seminar on online writing.

Fine, I said. "How many of you are rewriting your copy for online?"

Dead silence.

OK, I said after about 10 seconds, "You don't need an online writing course."

(Thanks to the Community Journalism Interest Group blog for the pointer.)

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