Want clips? Know your audience.

By Tim Harper and Heath Meriwether

It’s great to see the clips being generated by so many CUNY students. They’re a fresh reminder about how important it is, when you’re “selling” an article, to understand the audience you’re trying to reach.

Two quick examples from this week’s clips.  Hannah Rappleye scored with the kind of short, punchy, informative writing a reader expects in the Daily News. Jenni Avins took a lighthearted, chatty approach in her Fashion Week post for Dossier, an arts-and-culture journal that adopts an insiderish tone with its readers. We thought both pieces worked for their respective audiences and we asked both reporters how their stories came together.

Hannah sent the News a well-reported article with a newsy top. An editor there reshaped the tone with a jauntier first sentence. {“Bye, bye, biscotti.”} Said Hannah: “He was definitely responsible for shaping the tone to fit the Daily News audience–and it was very, very Daily News, wasn’t it? If I knew I was writing for the Daily News, I would adjust my writing accordingly–make it punchier and shorter.”

For the record, we liked what Hannah sent the News the first time. But it isn’t unusual that an editor there shaped it to fit the audience, particularly the “biscotti” opener. Jere Hester, who fashioned many such a lead during his 15 years at the News, made an astute point about this kind of approach: “I think they can be a great way into a story, as long as appropriate and not overused — and amusing, of course.”

Hannah made another fascinating point about writing for different audiences: “I’ve developed the ability to write in voices that are completely opposite than my own; it’s sort of like when the writer has to become the actor…Or perhaps all writers are actors, all the time. I haven’t figured that one out yet.”

Jenni Avins became an actor in her first-person approach in the Dossier file. The online journal, Jenni says, gives her the freedom “to use my own voice.” She had “loads of notes from the show about the fabrics, the makeup, the setting, the models, the music, etc., but in the end I tried to take a little moment that I thought encapsulated what it felt like to be there, as well as the mood of the collection…and write in that mood as well: pretty, but practical (as opposed to snarky, aggressive, or funny–all of which might have their place elsewhere on Dossier). Does that make any sense?”

Actually, we thought it made quite good sense. We don’t often advise a first-person approach but it works here because it establishes an intimacy and immediacy with readers, which writing online often demands. Yet it still has all the classic elements of a newspaper or magazine story, with a nut graf that tells you, without intruding, what was going on and what the writer thought.

We thought the approach paid off for her audience.

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