Wick Communications

Don’t write about nothing

In Writing techniques on May 29, 2014 at 2:57 pm

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Well, I’ll say this for Barbara Sharik of the Bastrop, La., Daily Enterprise: She is a woman of her word. When the headline promises a column about nothing, she delivers.

Wick Group Publisher Will Chapman passed this along. His family published the newspaper for many years up until the 1980s. I’ll bet you such a column wouldn’t have made it into print when the Chapmans were running the show.

Sharik writes, “Louis Mossbauer suggested I write about nothing and I said I could do that…” Well done, I guess.

Let’s stipulate that this is a waste of ink, her employer’s money and any reader’s time. Unfortunately, Sharik’s approach isn’t as novel as you might think. Too often columns — including those in our newspapers — tell us more about the writer’s approaching deadline than anything of import to readers. There is very little that I read in the course of my duties as editorial director for Wick that irks me as much as a self-indulgent column.

It’s important that we offer local opinion in our newspapers. It’s one of the things that differentiates us from the World Wide Web at large. There are hundreds of places to learn about an election in India. There may be almost as many places to learn about statewide elections in your neck of the woods. There even may be several places to read the police blotter from you town. But cogent, concise, crystallized thought about the events of the day from your neighborhood can be your unique value proposition. Don’t squander that opportunity and your readers’ time by writing about nothing. …

Some tips:

  • Keep it local. With respect, I already saw 50 Cent throw that terrible first pitch at the Mets game. We all admire Maya Angelou. Edward Snowden is everywhere already. Confine the comments you provide for your newspaper and website to things of immediate import in your community. If you can localize events of the day – if Angelou’s cousin lives in Roanoke Rapids and you want to talk to her – fine. But don’t stretch those connections to the breaking point.
  • Keep it short. More people are going to read your witty repartee if it comes in a 450-word package than if you meander on for 1,000 words. Instinctively, you know this already.
  • Keep out of it. Too many of our columns are about what we did over the weekend or how our child has grown or our time in that college fraternity. I know there is a school of thought that writing about yourself and the universal challenges we all face signals to readers that you are one of them, I’m just not a fan. Usually, it’s just easier to write about your weekend hike than doing the reporting necessary to enlighten readers. Anything less is a cop out.
  • Keep at it. Columns are seductive. They seem easy. They are not. You’ll get better if you write them consistently.

Clay

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