Monthly Archives: August 2006

MySpace considering print magazine with Nylon

A sure sign that another boom is upon us is when dotcoms look to extend their presence offline with a magazine or, gulp, a book.

The news that MySpace is considering teaming up with print magazine Nylon is interesting given that many have tried this before. Remember the Yahoo Internt Life, Live4Now or print magazine spin offs?

The mag is said to cover in-depth profiles of MySpace users, which does make sense given that longer features and case studies work better marginally on a printed page than they seem to online. But is there any real mileage in this? Will the content be valueable enough to attract mainstream advertisers?

MySpace is a weird and wonderful community of users and you can see how some of the heavier users might want to learn more (ie features on improving your ‘space’, blogging tips etc). But will they go for a print title?

Sites with major communities like World of Warcraft has countless spin offs, but they’re all online, no doubt because the majority of typical WoW users are white male 20 or 30 something heavy web users. Perhaps MySpace are hoping the diversity of their users (no doubt bliss and Nuts readers) means they’ll appreciate an offline title – but again, these same users are now going online to get their content for free rather than buy a print magazine updated only once a week.

MySpace should instead focus its efforts on producing a ‘best of’ online magazine – a ‘published’ or editorially filtered showcase of user content with editorial opinion and selection. This is where online magazines like are going after all. Surely, MySpace is in an excellent position to beat everyone at their own game?

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Copywriting tips and makeovers

Despite the ropey ‘makeover’ illustrations, Thomas L. Collins talks a good talk on copywriting techniques.

In his Direct mgazine columns (a US mag), he provides a critique of ads that have caught his eye – not always for positive reasons.

What caught my eye was his ability – as a veteran of copywriting – to apply classic techniques to ads. Drawing in rules from Ogilvy and the like, he provides an insight into consumer needs, wants and drivers.

There are some gems among the naff brands / ads. Take a look.

Tenuous links – a column by a Telegraph blogger

On this week’s theme of columns (yes – there’s more), a blog by David Derbyshire, consumer affairs correspondent for the Telegraph uses a very familiar structure.

Like Victor Lewis-Smith, David uses what seems at first to be an unrelated event or observation to lead into his argument.

A general grumble on how self-service is becoming the norm among high street retailers, the column kicks off with an observation on how useless train announcements can be. He then moves onto other odd and/or contradictory phrases in life. This then brings us onto the final contradictory word, ‘convenience’, which nicely relates to a discussion on ‘self-service’. Phew.

In my opinion, this is approach is a tad risky if you’re under a deadline. It’s also a gamble on getting these tenuous links to work together. And it can get a little tired if it’s used day in day out – your readers will get used to the formula (read five of VLS’ Evening Standard articles to see what I mean). Only the most professional of writers can pull this off, but when it works, it works well.

Top 3 column writing tips by Martin Kelner, The Guardian

I did something very unusual yesterday. I read the Guardian’s sports supplement. Given that I don’t really follow sport and am suffering from a touch of Guardian fatigue, I was surprised to find myself reading the discarded sports section I’d found on the train (see, I’m not the only one) for a full 10 minutes.

Why? Because of Martin Kelner and his column Screen Break, which picks apart the best (and mostly worst) sports coverage and related programming on TV.

Forgive me if I’m in a honeymoon period, but yesterday’s piece on body builders was one of the best columns I’d read in a long time.

So, in the same vein as my recent posts about Andrew Marr, I decided to email Martin and ask him how to write a good column.

Today, Martin kindly emailed me back with the following simple tips:

1. Always be thinking of ideas. Carry a fully functioning pen and pocket sized pad at all times ready to jot down notes…

2. Try for neatness in ending, if at all possible referring back to opening or other motif in the column..

3. Don’t forget rule 1.

Number 2 is a top tip – thanks Martin.

How to be a Columnist by the BBC’s Andrew Marr

According to Andrew Marr, former Political editor BBC News, there are no rules for writing a column, any more than there are any rules about how to write a novel. However, there are general points worth remembering.

Again, all of the text below is my *paraphrasing* of points made his book My Trade and is intended to provide a taster of Marr’s advice. Out of a sense of duty, I’m providing a link to the book at Amazon.

A column is not just an opinion – it has elements of reporting. Unlike news, columns can contain context, analysis, metaphor, historical analogy and humour, but consider telling the reader something new they may not have read. Look at the facts again to bring a fresh angle to a story. It’s the ‘actually’ bit that makes a good column sing.

Don’t resort to seize on something already in the press. It’s the refuge of idle kitchen table journalism. Assuming the original story was true, it gives added prominence to nonsense.

Like any argument, a good column is something that can be expressed in one sentence. If you can’t, then it’s likely to be dull. If you have problems with this, use a colleague to sound it off against.

Tackle something different. A feminist will provide an interesting take on hooligan boys.

The classic column states an argument, runs through the pros and cons, providing the evidence for and goring the case against, then concluding on a topic we’re now convinced is urgent. There are usually two to three pros and cons.

Using ‘most’, ‘often’ or ‘many’ implies some evidence has been considered. They can disguise opinion as fact.

Use English to your advantage. Acknowledge but skip over weak elements and use long sentences punctuated with short ones. Use stabbing syntax, with lots of dashes. Don’t be afraid to start with And or Or.

As Orwell pointed out, be clear and use basic language. Churchill’s speeches used moving and pointed words to move.

Tricks – like using strong images, colours, weather, food, smells or the cost of a bottle of wine will work more quickly than an elaborately crafted thought.

Add some numbers – no more than three or four sets.

Great columnists use the techniques of fiction and rhetoric to tell us what they believe is happening.

How to read a Newspaper by the BBC’s Andrew Marr

Below are some tips on how to spot real news, as provided by Andrew Marr, former Political editor BBC News.

All of the text below is my *paraphrasing* of a chapter’s points in his book MyTrade, all of which are intended to provide a taster of Marr’s advice. Out of a sense of duty, I’m providing a link to the book at Amazon.

Follow the names
If you find a reporter who seems to know the score, cherish him / her. Bylines are often the only signal that gold, rather than dross, lies below.

Register bias
Be aware reporters are less embarrassed to let the bias show. If a reporter regularly leans towards a specific party leader or individual, be aware this may point to the source of the story.

Read the second paragraph and look for quotes
The first paragraph is designed to sell, so look in the second. If it’s still fluffy, it’s likely there’s very little in the story. Also, look for direct quotes. Who are the sources. Are they named? ‘An industry analyst’ (ie my best mate) or ‘observers’ (nobody at all), then treat the story sceptically. If you keep coming across well written anonymous quotes, be suspicious.

If the headline is a question, try answering ‘No’
To a busy journalist hunting for real information a question mark means ‘don’t bother reading this bit.’

Watch out for quotation marks in headlines
These are often signs of failed reporting. The newspaper is likely to be reporting someone else’s view. These quotes can save you time in reading.

Read small stories and attend to page two
Sub editors have blind spots and can reduce important stories (according to you) to a few lines. The same goes for page two – these may have been bumped off the front page to make way for something ‘brighter’ that may sell newspapers on the newsagent’s counter.

Suspect ‘research’
Often put out by dodgy academics to gain publicity, which can be used for future funding applications. Look for how many people were surveyed. Seek out the ‘expert’ and who they work for. Would a real expert do / say this? Are they a doctor, professor or ‘researcher, Jeff Mutt…’

Check the calendar
Not just for April fools, but for annual stories. ‘disgust’ as A-level results increase again, or an annual art show ‘causes uproar’. You’ve read these before and you’ll read them again next year. On a busy day, flick on.

Suspect financial superlatives
It’s expected that teachers will get ‘their highest ever pay deals’, however excited the Minister sounds. Instead look at how these figures relate to the rate of inflation or with other similar / relative figures. Are bosses being paid more than shop floor staff.

Remember that news is cruel
Is life really full of failure and loathing? No. Newspapers don’t report happy news. Forgiveness or friendliness are hardly ever news. That’s why there is a group of people who seek out happier / trusted news sources.

Answer letters to create community – former editor of the Independent

A great piece of advice for blogs, newspapers and magazines from Andrew Marr, one time editor of the Independent. This can happily apply to users’ comments aimed at the blog’s author.

[Letters raised] interesting questions about our reporting and values. Perhaps
because we had such a small circulation, I tried to answer as many as possible
personally. Readers want to feel they are part of a community and it is an
editor’s job to show they are…[I] started a column called ‘Letter from the
Editor’…it got a big response.

This extract is from Andrew Marr’s My Trade. Out of courtesy, I’ve included an Amazon link to the book.