Blog: Content writing and content strategy insights

Tackling things at last

The Stern Report warns that the world has 10 years to tackle climate change, or face a global recession costing about $10 trillion. This certainly has woken up the politicians. As a result, today I had a Major Language Moment. I caught Helen Clark on TV3 news talking about energy efficiency, sustainable land use, biofuels in petrol, and so forth. Then she uttered these immortal words:

'All of these things have to be tackled.' I nearly fell off my chair.

For the last 10 years, every news broadcast has featured at least one person - and not just politicians - talking about 'addressing the issues'. How vague. How non-committal. How pompous. How remote. How utterly unconvincing are those weasel words, 'addressing the issues'.

Addressing... writing a name and address on an issue shaped like an envelope? Saying 'Greetings, o ye issues! Let us have a pointless little meeting'? Whether talking or writing, addressing is not exactly an energetic verb.

And issues... issues are not problems or crises, let alone things. They are abstract topics of esoteric academic interest. Professors can debate them for years. They never go away.

Together, 'addressing' and 'issues' create a cool, undemanding, cerebral concept. They absolve the speaker from actually solving problems. They are a comfortable refuge for people who have no taste for action.

But today Helen Clark blew away all self-protective ambiguity and uttered that grunty rugby word, 'tackled'. Sure, her verb was passive, so perhaps someone else is destined to do the tackling. But I have no trouble picturing our prime minister hurling herself at these 'things', determined to bring them down, and fast.

With the change from weasel words to action verbs, plain language took over, physical, active, and convincing. Oh please, may Helen's words influence our nation. And may she resist the temptation to relapse.

Fury at phonies online

The definition of phony has shifted. And that brings a warning for every business that publishes content online, especially blogs.

A print newsletter for philatelists was published by New Zealand Post a few years ago. Purportedly written by 'Uncle Fred' (I think), it discussed his life and travels as well as stamps. Nicely designed, it was unmistakeably a corporate document. Yet some people believed Uncle Fred was a real person, even replying to his letters. More fools they: that was the attitude then.

Online, readers may still get sucked in, but when they find out, their reactions are different. They aren't embarrassed. They are enraged. Readers get heavily involved with blogs. Their comments become part of the content. The story is not just what the company decides to dish out: the story is the way people react, what readers write. The readers are the story.

Two journalists travelled across the USA, overnighting in Wal-Mart parking lots, and reporting on their road trip in a blog, Wal-Marting across America. Good story. Trouble is, they concealed their identities and the fact that they were paid (doh!) by Wal-Mart. By the time BusinessWeek unmasked them, the public was engaged in the adventure.

How Wal-Mart went wrong: that's the story now! It has been summarised and analysed by scores of journalists and still it continues.

Edelman screws up with duplicitous Wal-Mart blog, but it's OK? Dave Taylor asks, for example.
Damage control by Laura St. Claire is far from convincing. Some might call it nauseating.

Oh by the way, I really, really am Rachel McAlpine.

The purpose of books

What is the purpose of books? Not the same in every culture. A display of thirteen centuries of illustrated books in Japan shows books dedicated to catching the essence of a moment - a second - or even a nanosecond. One scroll illustrates a single day's journey. An all-night party by Hokusai produced 364 sketches. The books themselves were perceived as ephemera.

"When the evanescent is carefully contemplated, something timeless is revealed," says Edward Rothstein (New York Times). The exhibition is in the New York Public Library until 4 February 2007.

Ehon: The Artist and the book in Japan
Were these beautiful, strange, startling books the equivalent of a newspaper? Is online journalism the ultimate in ephemera, or a museum of fossils?

October 10, 2006


Getting contented

Here's our blog about web content. And intranet content. Ready set go. We are bursting with ideas and at last have a place to put them. That's just the start: we are looking forward to your comments.

Last week someone asked me whether I knew of any 'New Zealand-based web community that shares information, contacts and experiences focused on content rather than the IT aspects of web.' Well, no, not last week. But today, here we are.

If you stumble on this blog while it still looks funny, sorry: soon it will be a bit more styly, and properly organised.

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