The joke’s on us, guys. I couldn’t help laughing out loud and passing around a recent article from The Onion this week. The headline “Internet Users Demand Less Interactivity” caught my eye. The satirical piece contained gems like this quote:
Every time I type a web address into my browser, I don’t need to be taken to a fully immersive, cross-platform, interactive viewing experience,” said San Diego office manager Keith Boscone. “I don’t want to take a moment to provide my feedback, open a free account, become part of a growing online community, or see what related links are available at various content partners.
Har-har. Go ahead. Read the whole thing, I’ll wait.
Now back to business. As much as our jobs depend on curating those cross-platforms and creating sharable content, things are only funny when they’re true right? I think there are lessons to be learned from being the butt of the joke. Here’s how to keep those snarky Onion writers happy:
1. Use Video Only When It’s Compelling
Many of my colleagues working at hometown papers have been handed small digital cameras in the past years and an order from higher ups to have accompanying video for their stories and columns. We all have to be reporters, video producers, audio editors, among other things, these days. But video only works when it’s compelling. For it to be compelling, you need more training than the two afternoons in the conference room with the tech guy. Many of us are good writers and good video editors. Just as many people are not. (Full disclosure: I am not.) There is a huge difference between knowing how to put together a nice video from filming to finishing touches, and really feeling, embracing, the medium. I want to propose that while adapting is good, and learning to use Final Cut or even iMovie is a must, if you know it’s just not your thing: rebel.
Well, don’t lose your job over it. But don’t be afraid to be the only person in the newsroom who doesn’t really get it. You probably aren’t alone, from what I’ve seen circling the internet. Enlist help, or spring for a community college workshop or class. At the very least, make your videos very short and make sure you aren’t just summarizing what’s in your piece, but documenting another angle. Of course, this doesn’t apply to large organizations with video channels and salaried video journalists and editors, but to those newsrooms (still!) trying to get on the digital bandwagon. You know who you are. It’s going to be OK.
2. Put Polls, Games and Infographics into Context
We’ve written here about some cool budget tools newsrooms have put together. And we’ve shared some easy tools to make slick infographics. All of these are great additions to your reporting and create value for your organization’s platform. But use them sparingly. Make sure you have interesting, new data, and you’ve put it in context before illustrating, publishing, or creating an online poll about it. You don’t want to be that guy with an infographic for every city council meeting. Those meetings aren’t always that interesting — you know that, your readership knows that. But when there’s data that would look good in a Crayola green pie chart or there are issues up in the air that the readership should be contemplating and a good interactive tool helps that process? Go for it. But keep it clean by choosing readable, professional fonts and themes and don’t just add everything. Be picky with the data. Moderation, friends.
3. Are You Really Tweeting?
We don’t just ask readers to engage with our organization and content, we ask them to connect with us, too. This is important to remain relevant, enlightening when it helps get tips and interviews, and let’s face it — it’s the fun part of being online. Every reporter needs a Twitter handle. Or do they? Are you more active on Facebook? You should be perusing Twitter — it’s useful. But if you are mainly following, and don’t really tweet, why include your Twitter handle under a byline? If you’re more comfortable on Facebook, create a professional page there. If you’re on a food or lifestyle beat, maybe Instagram or Pinterest is a better way to maintain a social media presence. Social media is now so ubiquitous that I don’t think you should feel forced to engage with a platform you just don’t really use. If you’re only tweeting or posting because you have to, your tweets and posts probably aren’t that engaging anyway.
It might be silly to take advice from The Onion, and I expect I sound a bit like a Luddite. But we could all benefit from taking a step back and think about our practices online. Just because it seems like everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Less can be more. And your content will be better for it.