We continue to need great editors. In a world where content is front and center and information is pouring in from every which way, it will become more apparent that editors are in charge of the meta conversation.
Will news organizations behave that way? It's a choice. There is at least one news organization that does. In an exchange with Andreas Kluth, the correspondent from The Economist who graciously agreed to have a conversation about new media here, he pointed me to this post in his new blog. In it, he details the first secret about good writing. Quoting from Clive Crook, who blogs for the Financial Times:
[...] In my experience, the editorial side of the enterprise spends little time worrying about what readers might want. In this insecure age, the larger part of the media industry thinks about little else but what readers, viewers, and advertisers might want—the better to serve them, or condescend to them, or pander. The Economist has always been much more interested in the world, and in what it thinks about the world, than in the tastes of its readers or anybody else.
[...] I suspect that if The Economist ever starts to worry very much about the new readers it would like to reach, in print and on the Internet, and to think about how it should tailor its content more deliberately with them in mind, then that will be the moment when its business starts to conform to industry averages.
"Don’t second-guess what others want, for that is the way to inauthenticity," writes Kluth. That seems to be something to remember with all writing, isn't it? When people read your material, they are looking to be transported into a story. Whether that be about current affairs, Hannibal (the subject of Kluth's book), a brand, a company, or a person.
Time and circumstance create a story. When individuals tell stories, they narrate a succession of events from their point of view - that is where the authenticity resides. Wasn't new media supposed to be about liberating the inner storyteller? Haven't we made strides into acknowledging that the point of view in journalism not only exists, but is needed and welcomed?
Before you throw your arms up in protest, the second post on the topic by Kluth comes full circle, completes the definition of what good writing is about. It's about empathy. "Empathy, properly used, means the ability to imagine what somebody else is feeling or thinking." A good writer puts himself in the readers' shoes. She imagines what the reader understands of the writing.
In this age of mobile communications the words themselves seem to be in transit - abbreviations, and harried sms are normal. Alas what happens when the meaning escapes?
The words you choose still matter a great deal. They harness the imagination, unleash emotion, and bring you down to earth ready for action. As Kluth explains, writers need to be mindful of an important question: "If I want to say this, what would somebody need to know first in order to understand it?"
If I begin a blog post with a quote or in mid-thought, what do I need to introduce shortly after my lead to help the reader navigate my meaning? Some of my favorite writers excel at this, and do so consistently. My most proud moment on words that matter was the post Upon Trajan's Column.
Clearly we all do have a style and a point of view. Yet the balance comes in when we empathize with our audience and open the door wide to the conversation with them. It's the difference between what readers want, concludes Kluth, and what readers might need.
Think about who your favorite journalists are, and you'll probably find that they know about the two secrets to good writing.
[image from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 2002]