The Web Writing’s on the Wall

11 09 2011

With the focus this week being on web writing and editing I was planning to see how ABC News approached this aspect of their website.  Well I’ve been having a look through today’s news and so far I haven’t actually got as far as the lead of any of their stories!!  There are two main reasons for this.

The above screenshot sums up the issues.  Firstly, the headline – “One Electrical Worker Blamed for Leaving Millions Without Power in California, Arizona and Mexico” – is so long it pretty much sums up as much about the story as I want to know.  If I maybe was thinking, “How did this happen?”, I would be tempted to scroll down and read the story.  But hang on, ABC have been so kind and placed a video from their news bulletin of this exact story right underneath the headline so Mr Terry Moran can stare out from my screen and tell me how it happened.  No need to read the story.  So 17 paragraphs of a story summed up before I even got as far as the first word of the lead.

This approach is used for the majority of US stories and for the major international stories that ABC have covered themselves (ie – not lifted directly from Associated Press).  The disappointing thing is on the ABC News page, above, the headline teasers are quite good and give enough information to catch your eye but not enough so you don’t want to explore further.  Since the headline-video-story structure is used for the main stories it is possible that someone just going for a quick look at the news may not even need to read a story to be informed.  Since I have a bit more time I thought I should look for stories on the website that do rely heavily on the actual writing.

There are clearly two different styles of writing found on ABC.com.  The stories written by members of the Associated Press follow a more traditional news style of the inverted pyramid.  The stories written by ABC News writers tend to either be really long (eg – Obama Jobs Plan Address) or humorous (eg – Woman Stalker Makes 65,000 Calls).  The reason for ABC using this approach with their writers may be caused by the use of video reports directly underneath the headline of their own stories.  This does lead to inconsistency as when you are moving between various stories it sometimes feels as though you are moving between different websites.

Solely looking at the stories by ABC writers, at times they work but at other times it doesn’t.  The approach works well with stories about 9/11 since so much has been written about it that new, fresh angles are definitely required.  However in some instances it backfires.

  “It seems everyone in Libya has a gun these days.”

An opening line about looters taking weapons in Libya.  See if you think this story is appropriate for that almost sarcastic opening.

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7 responses

12 09 2011
krystynabarnard

I think it’s good that you’ve pointed out how long headlines pretty much discourage readers to read the article because it provides the reader with all the information they’d want to know to begin with. I find this to be a common problem with many news outlets and their news stories, however, if the headline is too vague, it also might discourage readers to read the story because there may be a lack of interest or understanding of what the article is about. And although it’s important to provide the reader with some information regarding the article, I feel that some outlets would rather summarize the article rather than giving insight to what the article is actually about and enticing readers to read the article instead of just the headline.

12 09 2011
bdoughe1

It is definitely interesting how writers are sort of shooting themselves in the foot lately with their headlines. They do put too much information in the headline. In my opinion, a good headline should be less than eight words long and catch the reader’s attention. I like how you talked about the sarcasm in that Libya story. It seems like reporters are being unprofessional with writing like that. Maybe the influx of blogs has brought on this less rigid way of reporting?

12 09 2011
gfisken

You may be right about the blogs having an influence on that, though I do think there is a place for a bit of humour in the lead to a story – it’s just making sure it is an appropriate story. You just worry how a reader would interpret a lead like that if they are not familiar with events in Libya and don’t fully appreciate the full context of the story.

12 09 2011
jthomp72

I understand what you are saying about article headlines being too long, but what really can you do? It seems like if journalists have less in terms of a headline, they won’t have enough material to sufficiently grab the attention of our ADD riddled society. It seems like it’s a lose lose situation

12 09 2011
gfisken

In the “One Electrical Worker Blamed for Leaving Millions Without Power in California, Arizona and Mexico” story I’m sure:

“Electrician’s Blunder Blacks Out Millions” or “Parts of US and Mexico Left in the Dark” could at least make you think what happened and where exactly was it. I’m sure there is a little bit of creativity creeping about the ABC newsrooms somewhere!!

12 09 2011
Colton McCoy

I actually like the long headline that tells the whole story in some cases. Honestly, sometimes I just don’t want to read a huge article when it could be summed up into basically one sentence. If the headline is interesting enough to the reader, however, then he or she is going to read the entire thing anyway. Why not give the casual reader a break by having a super informative headline above the full article?

13 09 2011
gfisken

I think in some cases it is true that a reader will read the full article regardless of the size of the headline if it is a major story or a topic of interest to them, but I still believe on the more mundane or unusual stories that might not usually grab your attention a snappy or teasing headline is needed.

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