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How We (Don't Really) Read the News

By Richmond Shreve  Posted by Richmond Shreve (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   7 comments

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 6/4/09

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My new Kindle subscription to the New York Times provides a reminder of how we read the news -- we don't actually read most of it. This is a reality that many citizen journalists who submit articles here on OpEdNews forget.

The Kindle edition of the New York Times opens with a front page story and photo. The 3.5 by 4.75 inch screen of the Kindle II is  not big enough to present a legible image of the whole front page. Now, when I read the print edition, my eye usually scans over the headlines and I get a quick idea of what's going on in the nation and the world that I might want to read about. So I was immediately skeptical that my Kindle was going to give me what I want and expect from a newspaper.

Someone thought of that.  At the bottom of the screen is a navigation tool: a bar that's labeled "View Sections List" and when I click it, I get a listing of the major sections of the paper: Front Page, International, National ... Sports, ... Obituaries. To the right of each of these headings is a number indicating how many articles are available.  If I click on the number I get a list of the headlines, and the first few words of the first sentence of the story -- exactly what I like to scan on a real newspaper page -- perfect!

There is an important insight here for on-line journalists. We need to write strong headlines and first sentences or our articles will be passed over. As a volunteer editor at OpEdNews, I scan the articles awaiting editorial approval much the same way I scan the Times.  I'm looking for headlines that signal an important story.  If the headline commands my attention, I view the first few sentences. In that way I cherry-pick what I am going to spend time editing.

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No, it's not fair.  Fair, from the contributor's viewpoint,  would dictate that I review articles in the order presented, and that I carefully read each one. On the other hand, fair to the OpEdNews reader is a different matter.  You, dear reader, want me and all the editors to get the best stories out first, and to headline them so you can find and read what is most important to you. Reader expedience trumps treating all contributors evenhandedly.

So, here's a tip if you are submitting articles to OpEdNews, or any other news media. Write a good headline and make your point in the first line. Hook the editor's interest and then develop your story. Design the presentation of the story so that sub-headlines convey where you are going at a glance, and summarize what you told the reader in the last paragraph.  In other words, tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, then tell 'em, and then tell 'em what you told 'em. 

Cory Doctorow put it like this, "Here's a procedure that I almost always find useful for improving almost any kind of written composition -- a speech, an essay, an op-ed or a story. As a first pass, try cutting the first 10 percent (the "throat clearing") then moving the last 30 percent (the payoff) to the beginning of the talk (don't bury your lede!)."

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If you follow that advice, even those readers who only bother to read your headline and your first sentence will get your point. And here at OpEdNews your story stands a lot better chance of getting published ahead of the 50 or more others that arrived with it.

 

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Richmond Shreve is a retired business executive whose careers began in electronics (USN) and broadcasting in the 1960s. Over the years he has maintained a hobby interest in amateur radio, and the audio-visual arts while working in sales and (more...)
 

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