Skip to content
Sep 19 / King Kaufman

Links roundup: On Twitter, what writing’s worth and aiming for the fringe

Some interesting reading has come across my radar over the last few weeks that I haven’t gotten around to writing full posts about. So before they get overtaken by technological change, or tectonic shifts, here’s a little roundup.

Steve Buttry is a pretty smart thinker about the changing media landscape. I quote him in myTextbook piece about writing a good lede.

At the time, in April, he was working for the hippest startup in what I call Journalism Nerdland, in Washington. Now, he’s working for the hippest media company in Journalism Nerdland — even hipper than Bleacher Report — the Journal Register Company.

Last month Buttry posted his Updated and expanded Twitter tips for journalists, and I recommend it. He first posted his tips in 2009, and he calls the advice in this update “elementary to intermediate. If you’re an experienced Twitter user, this might not be helpful to you. The tips here are intended for journalists with no Twitter experience or those who have dabbled a little, but haven’t made Twitter part of their regular journalism tool set.”

At this point, it surprises me when I encounter a writer who isn’t a presence on Twitter. It’s a huge missed opportunity. If that describes you, start by reading Buttry, who starts with “Why use Twitter?”

I’ve also linked several times to Robert Niles’ columns at OJR: The Online Journalism Review. He writes a lot about ebooks, a mini-obsession of this blog, and that’s what I’m going to link to again here.

In “What is journalism worth?” Niles breaks down how much people have historically been willing to pay for journalistic works.

For individual, incremental, daily news reports, he writes, the answer is almost nothing. By the time you take out the cost of paper, ink and delivery and divide up that quarter or 50 cents by the number of stories in a newspaper, you get a figure very close to zero as the worth of any story. Magazines have fewer stories, usually with a bit more depth, and cost more, so people have traditionally paid a bit more for them, but still less than a buck in most cases. Only in the case of books, with one story, no ads or coupons, and a relatively high price, have people shown themselves willing to really pay for journalism.

That’s why ebooks are so important, because they’ve allowed more writers to get into that part of the business that “has been able to rely consistently upon the income from its consumer value,” Niles writes.

An interesting read.

I like to try to take lessons from other areas of endeavor when I can, so I’ll throw this out there in case you do too. Jason Cohen is an entrepreneur, author and consultant who writes a blog about startups and marketing.

Today he published a post about his theory that startups must appeal not to the masses, but to the fringes.

Here’s an excerpt. He’s talking about startup companies, businesses. But does any of it make sense as you think about your career as a writer?

How do you get 40,000 fans, whether web app customers, blog readers, or book-buyers? By talking to the fringe, not the middle.

By taking a hard line on what’s important to you. By having strong opinions, even if weakly held. By being specific, not general, By speaking to your target audience, not to just anyone who happens by your website. By taking the smallest, most well-defined niche you can muster and owning it 100%.

You’ll need to be honest too. It’s hard to be passionate, strong, specific, and zealous without also be honest. Honest with yourself in what you profess and honest with others that you’re espousing it with neither apology nor qualification …

Then you’ll discover the best part: People outside your niche will like what you’re saying too. You’ll find that people who aren’t your “perfect” customer are nevertheless willing to join you, because strong opinion coupled with abject honesty is compelling …

A strong, clear message of any sort beats a muddled, generic message attempting to appeal to the masses.

One last thing. Notice how I spelled “lede” up there, in that way that I do, because I came up in newspapers and I like using old-timey newspaper jargon.

Well it turns out “lede” might not be so old-timey after all. Here is Chris Keller’s Storify of a Twitter thread about the subject Sunday. It looks like the “lede” spelling only came into vogue in the 1970s and ’80s, just as hot lead type was disappearing. It’s nostalgia, not actual old-time usage.

I came along after this transition, so “lede” has always felt old-timey to me even though it only predates me, evidently, by a few years.

What do you think? Should I quit using it?

  • Phil Caldwell

    Definitely keep using it. It’s one of those rare things in life that is cooler than what the kids came up with, communicates that you’re wise and mature, and it’s sorta like a catch-phrase that signifies membership in an exclusive journalistic club that only those who are as equally mature and enlightened will understand. I like it. I like a lot. In fact I may starting it too!