Digital Writing NU S15

Write like you mean it.

What does design have to do with it?

This week, we’re looking at web design and how it can forward our products. As bloggers, right now, you are your product, or your words are. As we learn how to recognize good design vs. ineffective design, we can use that knowledge to improve our own sites and soon, improve others’ sites for them.

Read: This excellent article on how to optimize design

Think: Am I utilizing these principles on my own blog?

A lot of design elements are things you may have never considered, such as the impact of color on your site’s efficacy, or things that may have bothered you before, but you never knew why. A lot of that is the impact of psychology on the efficacy of design.

Read: How to choose the best colors for your site.

Think: How do my blog’s colors impact its readability?

This week, take a look at your blog’s design. Consider its colors, use of graphics and video, fonts and layout. Are you happy with the subliminal message your site is sending, or are you unintentionally broadcasting something to your readers?

Write: A blog post in keeping with the mantras we developed last week, but also spend some time thinking about how the design of your site impacts your site. When cruising the Internet this week, pay attention to how some of your favorite sites are designed. You may want to jot these down, for use in your next big project.


Who are you, online?

This week, we’re taking a good, hard look at our social media presences, our blogs and even what’s been said about us on the Internet to begin thinking about crafting an online presence. But what do we mean by crafting a presence? We all know those people (heck, some of us might be those people) who are perfectly perfect in every way online, the people who “humblebrag” all over the Interwebs about how amazing they and their awesome life are. This is not effective image crafting. This is being an annoying jerk. Because we don’t want to be annoying jerks:

Read: This excellent breakdown of what makes a bad Facebook post bad. You may know some of this already, but it’s still worth a read, and sometimes it’s funny. (Disclaimer: I think it’s funny. You have the right to disagree, but read it anywya).

Step one: Don’t be that guy (or girl).

Step two: Let’s think about how to think about our brands.

Read: This article about how to begin to curate yourself online. This is just one approach, and there are many others. You may have other ways of doing the same thing. But consider this one, anyway.

Think: How much of this am I already doing? Where am I in this process?

You may want to take a look at your own Facebook page, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. while you’re reading these articles, so you can cross-reference the advice they’re offering with your own online practice. You may be further ahead (or behind) than you think you are.

Next, let’s think about how curating others’ content onto your blog or social media can help boost your content and, in turn, improve and/or strengthen your online brand.

Read: This discussion of how curating is helpful. Why link to other content? Because you can ride that wave, if you’re doing it effectively. Use your resources wisely.

Write: A blog post that utilizes some of these practices. Curate some information from another site (with proper credit, of course) and use it to boost your own content in a demonstrable way. This can and should include images, but link to other content, as well. Some of you are already doing this. For those of you who aren’t, now is the time to stretch your wings.  If your blog does not already have a catchphrase or mantra, now is the time to institute one. This blog post should directly relate to that mantra, and it should be obvious to the reader (and me) that you have given it some focused thought.

RIP David Carr, NYT columnist and author

David Carr, a columnist for The New York Times and one of journalism’s greatest writers to date, died last night. He was a culture reporter, a media columnist, a memoirist, a former drug addict and one of the most vocal advocates for journalism as a field to evolve in order to survive.

In honor of his passing, here is an excerpt from his memoir, “The Night of the Gun.” It includes drug references, so anyone sensitive to that, this is your trigger warning. It is not required reading, but highly recommended for those of you who are having a hard time getting inspiration for your blogs, those of you interested in getting into journalism, or anyone looking for a jolt of inspiration for this week’s writing assignments.

Read: “Me and My Girls” by David Carr.

Don’t forget to post a blog before next class, send me your reflections and bring your comparison papers on Wednesday. Stay warm, everyone.

The makings of a successful site

This week, we will continue thinking about writing on the web vs. writing anywhere else. As you continue your foray into blogging, consider this: What makes a blog successful is made up of many facets, few of which have to do with the actual writing they feature. The business of writing online is a complex one, with advertising, page views, dissemination and content all playing together to create the perfect package, that still may not take off.

So what’s the formula? Let’s take a look.

One of the online writing world’s most successful bloggers, and perhaps one of the grandfathers of the medium, is Andrew Sullivan. Last week, Sullivan announced he would cease blogging to focus on “being a human first.”

Read: Andrew Sullivan’s farewell blog post on The Dish.

In a classic blogosphere move, Journalist Simon Owens wrote a think piece about Sullivan’s departure, breaking down some of the ways, reasons and wherefore’s Sullivan did so well.

Read: Owen’s take on blogging as an industry.

But Sullivan’s long-running site relied, in part, on old-fashioned syndication to boost its audience. That requires other sites, sites bigger, stronger and more stable than yours, to throw their faith and funds behind yours in order to get it in front of their audience, and to get that audience to become your audience.

Digital writers, there is another way.

We all remember when Kim Kardashian’s backside made waves and coined the #breaktheinternet hashtag back in November. As should surprise no one, that famous, oily derriere was not the only reason Paper’s site went viral almost immediately, and Paper benefiting from it did not happen overnight (well, it kind of did, but we’ll get to that), nor did it happen easily. You can’t break the Internet without first making sure the Internet doesn’t break your site, and the story behind that can teach us all a thing or two about not only how to go viral, but how to handle your fame once it arrives.

Because in this day and age, even if you don’t have a naked Kardashian on line one, your site can attract traffic without the help of The Beast or the Daily Mail. What’s important is knowing the cogs behind that movement and the players that have to jump in to make it happen. This article is a long one, but it’s worth it. I promise. It also includes the phrase “Up goes the butt,” if that influences your decision whether or not to do the required reading.

Read: PAPER’s back end prepares for Kim’s

Once you’ve read all of these articles, think about where your site falls in the world of digital writing. So you’re no Sullivan. Not yet. You’re probably also not David Jacobs or Jamie Granoff. But your blog exists in the same world as Sullivan, as Paper, as each other’s. You probably don’t have something as big as Kardashian’s rear end to show off on your site, but you do have content that needs an audience.

Write: This week, continue to work on curating your blog’s length and content to type. Make sure your blog reads true to your voice, your content and your message. But this time, also think about how you stack up against the giants of the online world. Your post can be on any topic you choose (as long as it aligns with the above), but it must clearly demonstrate a thoughtful attention to how its length and content, including images, videos, gifs, etc, enhance the message of your site.

In addition: If you have not already, begin gathering source materials for your comparison project. That project will be due in class on Feb. 18, and you will want to have those materials ready to go before we meet again on Feb. 11. We will discuss exact parameters for that project in class on that day.

Print is dead: Considering media’s evolution

Is print dead? With the advent of the Internet, scholars and journalists alike (as well as those of us who cross-pollinate in both academia and the media world) have spent countless hours talking, writing, blogging and lamenting about the demise of the medium. But are we too fatalistic?

Some say newspapers and magazines are not long for this world, giving way to digital news sources and even social media. Others posit the medium simply has to evolve to survive. Still others say there will always be a place in the canon not only for newspapers and magazines, but television and radio news, which have suffered almost equal blows in the instant gratification culture the Internet has fostered. What do you think?

Read: The Onion’s take on print’s demise

Read: Politico’s waffling discussion

Read: One magazine’s rejection of the “print is dead” idea.

Think:  How have you have interacted with print, throughout your own lives? Think about childhood books and magazines, how you grew up learning to read, and what role both print and digital media played in your own genesis. Think about what it has meant to your work, today.

Write: Write your second blog post reflecting on how print media has influenced you, so far. If your blog is about music, you may consider writing about how Rolling Stone, music bloggers or other sources got you into the music blogging world. If you’re blogging about fashion, you’ve got Vogue, Conde´ Nast in general, the advent of fashion bloggers as a real, valid source of trend spotting to reference. Sports bloggers, I give you Sports Illustrated, or maybe not. You tell me. Tell me, your readers, the world how print has formed you, or not, and what you think of how it will influence your blog content as you go forward. This post should be at least 500 words. Give it some meat.

Week one: Introduce your blog

Welcome to digital writing or writing for the web. This week, we will be creating our own blog sites and familiarizing ourselves with the features available to create digital content. The first thing you need to do is introduce your blog and its purpose. This first blog post can make or break it, as it goes live for the first time. You want prospective readers to be interested in the content you’re going to provide, and in order to do that, you must tell them what that is.

A few guidelines:

Papa don’t preach. Tell your readers what you plan to do, but don’t proselytize. If your blog is all about the merits of vegetarianism, don’t start by discussing the evil, disgusting lives of carnivores. That will turn them off your content (and lose you clicks) right away.

Brevity is the soul of wit. We will get deeper into the importance of conscious length later in the semester, but for now, keep it short and sweet. Tell your readers who you are, what your blog is about and get out of there. It’s always better to leave them wanting more.

Be a window, not a door. Go ahead and introduce yourself to your readers, but be aware of what needs to be said, and what doesn’t. If your blog is about fashion, explain to your readers why you’re qualified to talk about it, but there’s no need to tell your entire life story. Give them a peek into who you are, but don’t let them all the way in.

Coming soon to theaters. Wrap up your first post by telling your readers what’s next. Give them an idea of what you’ll be covering in subsequent posts, so they have a reason to come back. This the main difference between a blog and an essay or any other type of writing: It has to evolve, over time. And in order to do that effectively, you need someone watching.