04. Writing for the Web

Writing well for the Web is not simply adding up the various techniques used on networks. Using a technique, whichever it is, must be justified by the informational added value it brings to your readership. Without this added value, technique is nothing.

A definition

An article published on the Internet is shorter. Be it text, audio or video, it has got to be short, because a reader’s attention span on a computer screen is a lot more random : no more than 6000 signs, a minute of audio or three minutes of video. Beyond that, you’ll need to come up with an attractive way to depict the story. And if you do go beyond that, web users won’t read your article in its entirety.

So you need to write more concisely and with many entry points, so as to win and keep the audience’s attention. It’s also defined by its used of “rich media”, that is to say all of the techniques that bring diversity to the article (a media mix) a depth to the text (internal and external links), and adapt to web browsing constraints.

Why should I use photos, audio or video ?

Working online you must always ask yourself one question: which medium fits the most the story I’m telling ? As a whole :

  • Written text is the most common and easiest medium
  • Audio is oftentimes used for reporting, portraits and interviews
  • Images (video or photographs) allows for better rendering of “collective” topics, such as protests, huge events, action sequences…

Once you have your answer, you need to evaluate if you are able, technically speaking, to meet the requirements. This is why every web newsroom needs to know how to record audio, tape videos and take photographs and put it online. Nowadays these techniques are easily accessed because the tools are cheaper and more user friendly (smartphones, camera…).

Should multimedia journalists know how to do everything ?

Sometimes described as the Shivas of newsbringing (from the three-eyed, four-armed Indian god), able to do everything, multimedia journalists must master each of these techniques. That’s not to say they should use them all at the same time. It’s actually impossible : forget about those who pretend to be able to do everything at the same time : such a thing simply doesn’t exist. Still, you need to choose what you’ll do before going out on the field, and you might have to change your coverage if needed.