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Dec 9 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: Top 10 online writer mistakes (Part I)

After three years, hundreds of interns and who knows how many reviewed articles, I’ll let you behind the curtain for a peak at the top 10 mistakes we typically help writers fix.

As a Feedback Editor for the Bleacher Report Internship program, it’s my job to help our writers identify the structural, mechanical and content improvements they each individually must make.

Our interns range from high school whiz kids to “J-school” graduates, from B/R rookies to longtime Featured Columnists. The writers are all different, but the lessons they need to (and do) learn are largely the same.

The point is, even if you’re not in the internship, you probably also fall somewhere on this broad continuum.

I’ll mention a couple of points each week (in no particular order), and would love to hear from you on the challenges/mistakes you often catch in yourself or fellow writers. Sharing some questions, concerns and discovered tricks of the trade is what this is all about.

Writers often …

1) Forget who they’re actually writing for.

Yes, we all have our guilty pleasure topics and teams (mine is the Minnesota Timberwolves). It’s certainly fine to “damn the readership torpedoes” every once in a while, cranking out a personal-interest piece just to stay cosmically centered as a writer and sports fan.

At the same time, I often run into a fair number of writers, (when they’re not under the guidance of one of those mythical, slave-driving, micro-managing editors) who snootily remind me, “Well, I try to avoid writing about the mainstream.”

True, writing from a new, fresh angle IS what it’s all about. However, when it comes to topics, there’s a reason why something is “mainstream”: People want to read about it. With a thousand other voices likely chiming in on that subject, will yours uniquely jump out from the crowd? Or is it just easier to not say anything at all?

There’s no badge of honor for not getting any reads on something you publish.

Don’t know what readers are looking for RIGHT NOW? Google, Yahoo, most major news sites and even the B/R front page have “trending” lists that are easily accessible and always invaluable.

Your readers await YOUR voice.

2) Look backwards.

Too often we find writers who want to lead their story with background.  Worse yet, still more want to structure the whole premise around something in the past. While there certainly is a time and place for recaps, retrospectives and context, unless you’re writing for the Associated Press, you don’t have a guaranteed built-in audience for the past.

We preach it a whole bunch around here, but the vast majority of online readers want to know what’s happening next. You may not like to believe that this is true, but the numbers don’t lie (and that goes beyond B/R and sportswriting in general too).

Backwards-looking topics have an extremely limited shelf life (unless they’re deeply historical pieces). Readers have already found last night/week’s information elsewhere and are moving on.

On the other hand, forward-thinking content not only draws larger readership due to anticipation, but even has a lifespan past the event’s occurrence, as people will still read it to compare its predictions to reality.

If you’re going to write about last night’s game, then write about how the game affects the team’s season going forward. Tell readers EXACTLY how that’s going to happen in the first 20-25 words and THEN give the background of the game itself.

I’ll be back next week to share two more critical mistakes online writers often make…

Joel C. Cordes is Bleacher Report’s Sportwriting Internship Program Feedback Editor. Along with fellow editor Greg Pearl, he mentors B/R interns by reviewing articles, answering questions and providing guidance, the highlights of which are shared with the B/R Blog.

  • Ben Rosenthal

    I agree with game recaps it is important to explain what that game means for the future. Just summarizing a game isn’t as interesting a read as one that takes it a step further.

  • Sharon Swaby

    I love these writing tip articles and I share them with my writing students. One of the (admittedly editing) errors I encounter all the time are usage errors–using ‘peak’ instead of ‘peek’, for example. Probably because spellcheck does not pick them up.

  • Kelly Scaletta

    Great advice.