Specificity and Focus!

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/11/fashion/a-spring-shopping-guide.html?hp&_r=0

As an addition to my last post (and others!) on keeping things readable so that they remain somewhat valid and relevant to readers, I’m going to look at articles that take an incredibly specific stance on something. Not everyone is going to be interested in spring fashion… so where it it’s relevance? What makes people willing to even make it through the first few paragraphs?

This article nails it. It brings it down to a level that is relevant to everyone. How many people struggle to find pants that fit? And when we do… we look at the price tag and groan. Suddenly, those pants aren’t going home with you. This article hits the areas that people most struggle with. It isn’t just one person, or one portion of the population. Shopping patterns are sociologically trends… that’s been proven. Go find 10 people on the street and ask if they are able to afford to shop the way they would if they had just a little more money. These issues are real issues, and they’re issues that everyone is going to deal with as they go through into their Spring Wardrobe if they decide to add to it or replace (which, again, we all do.)

So what is the benefit of this? People will read it. It doesn’t make it irrelevant. It doesn’t make it pointless and only focused on how wonderful the designer trends out are… it makes some sense of spring fashion acceptable while still relating. If an article that is specific to certain groups can do this, it definitely pulls people in and encourages them to read the article and this, perhaps, can even expand the interest group… which only brings people back for more.

Dealing with sticky, tricky, and complex issues…

For context purposes… http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/11/world/asia/north-korea-missile.html

Newspapers are generally written to cater to as many people as possible. The writing level is around a 5th or 6th grade reading level, as a general rule. Some issues, though, are harder to wrap one’s head around, let alone pick apart and analyze. There is a level of difficulty in both accepting the difficult issues (both because we don’t want to believe they’re possible, let alone that they ARE happening) and an even greater difficulty in understanding them when one is entirely focused on tuning them out and “turning the radio off,” to things that they don’t want to think about going on in the work.

Journalism has to combat that. Writing has a power to stir up massive fear, and writing has the power to alleviate fear. When written well, a good article can shine light on what is going on. When this happens, even if when it is information one doesn’t particularly want, they are able to understand what is going on. When an article is written in such a way that it contains so much jargon only someone well educated in an issue can tune into it, it continues to complicate the issues and make it seem even scarier.

The article above does a good job looking at a particular aspect of a sticky situation in our world. The threat of North Korea is one that is keeping many on somewhat an edge, and many who are not nervous have tuned out to it a bit. This article breaks it down in that it gives the sticky details, but still keeps it at a level that is understandable. It clears up many of it’s references, and makes the information accessible… and on some level, less sticky, and less scary.

 

Let’s talk bias!

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/opinion/malicious-obstruction-in-the-senate.html?src=recg

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/01/opinion/using-medicaid-dollars-for-private-insurance.html?hp

Editorials! They definitely provide variety to the basic news that comes out. The dangers of editorials? Just getting one side, and one opinion. So how do you handle writing and reading opinion articles and still get something out of them? Thankfully, a good opinion article doesn’t have to cram the opinion down your throat as long as it is still providing good information. 

The 2 articles above hit nerves based on my own political ideals. That said, I got information out of them that is admittedly relevant and valid. When you’re writing the average news article, you avoid all bias possible, but opinion pieces don’t necessarily require this. The pieces above are great examples of how personal view can peek through without being overwhelming and defeating the purpose of an article. 

There are obvious negatives to biases. They may skew one’s opinion if the person doesn’t know all the facts, and it could really throw them. This same idea can be helpful if a reader handles the issue correctly. Say you know nothing about what is going on in the Senate, but you read a couple of opinion articles, especially if they’re coming from different sides. You’re still going to come up with some information, probably just as much as a typical news article. You just may have also inherited an opinion or two, supported or not by the articles you read. No harm in that. None at all. So, aside of being entertaining and a little bit of a confirmation bias for many, opinion articles can be excellent when written in a way that balances information with the editorial side.

Localization or nonspecification?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/22/education/chicago-says-it-will-close-54-public-schools.html?hp&_r=0

Some articles are better localized, and can have a more powerful effect on readers when doing this. This however would be more typical of smaller local newspaper. 

 

That said, I can’t help wondering if this would be better spent focusing not only on the Chicago closings, but what is going on every where else. Most people know education systems are suffering, but why? It seems like a little more in depth investigative reporting and you’ve got something that is suddenly applicable not only to Chicago, but to the whole country. The language in the article gives some insight to the fact that school systems are suffering, and some insight as to why… but it can’t be that localized, right? It has to be everywhere, or at least, more widespread than anyone wants to admit. It seems like this piece could be better served if the coverage of Chicago led in to issues within the education system and other schools country wide.

What do we want to know? Why do we want to know it?

Okay. Links!

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/08/education/law-schools-look-to-medical-education-model.html?hp&_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/08/us/politics/mccain-and-graham-assail-paul-filibuster-over-drones.html?hp

Okay. We know that subject dictates the way an article is written. But why? What makes us go after an article? I’ve discussed in the past what makes us continue reading one, but what makes us actually latch onto it to begin with?

Both of these article caught my attention because they are subjects that are important to me. That’s a starting point. But then what? Lots of things can be considered important, right?

The filibuster was urgent, breakingly important. It really can change things, throw a wrench in things, improve things… whatever your view, it is urgent. This leads to it being written as a breaking news article. We need all the information we can get quickly. A split in the Republican party is important. I want as much info as my brain can ingest in the shortest amount of time possible so that I know what is going on. The traditional style for writing this type of article does just that, and this article portrays it well.

Now, law schools. Lots of people want to go to law school. Frankly, as long as people are dying, lawyers will be needed… however, just how many? So they’re starting this program of opening their own firm. That’s good to know. Maybe it will expand. It will likely expand. But this isn’t something that is going to change my day to day living, or plans, or outlook on my country. The issues with the filibuster have the potential to do that. A news analysis type story gives more general and even entertaining information. In this case, it’s just a cool tidbit of knowledge to have… but it doesn’t change day to day.

And that, perhaps, could be one of the most integral pieces to them being written differently. They serve different needs, and meet different ends.

Let’s chat more on layout and organization… and language.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/15/us/politics/leading-senate-republicans-set-to-block-hagel.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0&hp

 

In a world where filibusters and political issues are primarily only noted by those interested in such topics, where is, again, the line of importance drawn? At some point, I want to answer this question, and figure out what makes people read… (and not!).

 

The above article uses a fairly basic structure, but breaks down a comparatively complex issue in doing so. The average person could then understand what is going on in the US Senate with little to no knowledge of the in depth issues. Is this a good thing? We say that reporters are urged to write at a 6th grade reading level. 

Perhaps people are on to something. 

News is supposed to inform everyone. There are of course, discourse communities and interest groups, but I would argue that in something such as The New York Times, one is given the opportunity to reach nearly anyone… meaning the dry, the boring, and the complex, should be transformed  into  a state otherwise.

This article does an excellent job at doing this. The line action is easy to follow information wise, and even though the ideas are very political, almost anyone could read this article and understand the implications of the matter (you know… filibusters? Those are kind of a big, and annoying, deal). It gives insight into things that are actually going on in the country, and and allows people to be more knowledgeable, strictly through making the information accessible based on how it is written. This access to knowledge allow people to be a bigger part in democracy… you know, what our country runs on?

Amazing what a little well written news can do. 

In which we compare the good, the bad, and the ugly…

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/obama-tells-house-democrats-he-will-confront-republicans-on-taxes/?ref=politics

^^ This is about as close to typical Breaking News Story outline as one is possibly going to get. The only deviation I noticed from the typical structure is that there were two quotes in a row, and then some content and context for them. Regardless, this left the article information, easy to understand, and best of all, flowing so it could be finished without annoyance. 

Now, let’s take a look at the just “bad.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/08/us/politics/white-house-director-of-faith-based-initiatives-will-step-down.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

I would argue that the above article is perhaps not “bad,” however, there is quite a bit of context, and little quoting. When you’re dealing with someone stepping down from positions like this, you want to hear out of them as much as you can. Granted, you have to release a story, but I felt a little jipped when I was reading this. The lack of this led the content to not be what was expected for the article, on my end at least. Okay. Remember that. Highlight. What was expected of the article. I’ll come back to that.

Onto the ugly! I do want to stress the importance of this piece being an op-ed piece, but if you’re going to write for the New York Times, do it right. Link is below!

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/opinion/the-questions-brennan-cant-dodge.html?ref=politics

The ugly, though, to most,perhaps not SO ugly that it deserves such a title…

Okay. This one does really follow any structure and has no quotes except single words, so, can I really rely on this for my information… check the CNN mention… are you twisting their words? You got your info from them but you can’t quote them?). Is that bad? Well, yes… and no. Here’s where my point comes in. 

Organization is MORE than just a good read. The way something is laid out is not only what is going to keep readers continue to article simply because it makes sense, but what is also going to prompt them to read it to begin with. If an article isn’t laid out a certain way, it almost, often times, does not achieve what it set out to do (think Swine Flu article, people!). It isn’t that the topic is simply not discussed, but, it is not covered thoroughly, doesn’t give enough support, and can often times leave the reader wondering, “What the heck did I just read? I have no idea? Okay, moving on.” And that is the end of it. 

So. Organization good. Quotes Good. Context and good content good… Random ramblings on a page… bad.