Wick Communications

Readers don’t keep clips

In Writing techniques on 5 Feb 2015 at 2:03 pm

Project X art

You know the story. You’ve written about the proposed development (or environmental complaint, or personnel action, or whatever) a hundred times. You figure everyone in town already knows that Project X is that thing on the edge of town that would use 2.2 acres to store toxic chemicals within a mile of a school, so you can just skip that part, right?

Well, no.

I had an editor one time who was semi-famous for saying, “Readers don’t keep clips.” In other words, Mr. and Mrs. Reader have things on their minds other than Project X. Furthermore, you have new readers – tourists, transients, transplants. Just because the mayor, the police chief, the town gadfly and you are fully versed in Project X, doesn’t mean you don’t have to explain it for the rest of us.

Think about it like this. If you are writing about Project X again, there are at least three components you’ll have to spell out.

  • What it is.
  • Why it’s important.
  • And why it’s in the news now.

Lately, I’ve noticed many of our writers beginning correctly with that last component (sometimes known as the “news peg.”) Then they explain that second component (which is sometimes called the “nut graph” and probably the hardest part to write.) But they skip right over a simple paragraph explaining what this Project X thing is. …

I should say this isn’t a Wick newspaper problem; it’s an epidemic even among the best reporters at the best news agencies. (Try, for example, to find an explanation of what “genetically modified organisms” are in this long takeout in the New York Times. In fact, I couldn’t find a good example of doing it right today…) The fact is, the better you know your subject, the more likely it is that you will forget this key ingredient of the stew you are trying to feed to readers. I suspect a general assignment reporter is more likely to explain non-GMO labeling to readers than a science correspondent who knows the issue inside and out.

Don’t get ahead of yourself. Tell us what you are writing about.

Clay

 

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