By Nigel Beale
Command the entire Canadian military to stack into neat little piles all the warm, wonderful pages of propaganda that I have pumped out over the past fifteen years, and by the end of the day, there’d still be enough loose floating pulp to drown an entire airborne division.
The bulk of this pulp has, over the years, been humbly presented to editors across Canada in an effort to help them fill their pages. Results have been impressive. Hundreds of millions of gross readers…. and millions of decent ones…. have learnt, among other things, how to buy refrigerators, calculate the GST, stop smoking, lift properly, barbeque chicken with beer, sooth bladder pains, avert heart attacks and apply moisturizer as a result. I go to sleep each night secure in the knowledge that I am improving the lives of Canadians and making Canada a better place in which to live.
Some years ago I wrote a quaint little primer on how best to write irresistible filler for newspaper editors. Rifling through it recently, I noted that much of the same advice now holds true for those developing messages for the Internet. Given the current stampede to convert material for use on corporate Web pages, I re-print the piece below in hopes that a new generation of cybernautic propaganda pumpers may benefit: As with any news release, the first objective of a feature filler story is to attract the attention of editors. Short punchy headlines combined with intriguing photographs or diagrams will serve the writer well in this regard.
When writing for a mass audience, direct language is essential. Words, phrases and concepts must be familiar to the intended readership. Big words should only be used when absolutely necessary. By varying sentence length, using the active rather than the passive voice, and sprinkling in quotations, the writer will encourage reader interest.
Leads should arouse self or human interest impulses. They should pique a curiosity that leads the reader into the body of the story (or deeper into the Web site). There is no need to cram in "who, what where, when, why and how." Articles that are not time-sensitive, or that promote specific pre-arranged events such as Environment Week or the opening of the Skydome are ideal for distribution to newspaper editors.
Readers of feature stories expect to be informed. They expect to learn something. This may explain why Question & Answer, "Did You Know" and "How To" columns have traditionally done well. Articles that deal with inherent interests ( sex, hunger, security and power), as well as trained interests (patriotism), also tend to appeal to readers.
Popular criteria for selecting feature story angles include: the unique or unusual; people; animals; adventure; success; and love ( or sensation!) of any kind. Writers should also study the needs and wants of their audiences to determine hot topics of interest. In short, an article that buys into a universal, inherent or current interest should do well.
Experience has uncovered a number of Do’s and Don’ts for the successful filler writer. Shorter articles tend to receive better pick-up than longer ones. Catchy headlines work. Funky diagrams enhance pick-up. Commercial logos and ad copy should be avoided. Blatant propaganda insults editors who are generally looking for unbiased well-written, useful information.
Editors are always looking for interesting photographs. Here are some photo pointers: if you have a choice, always select shots with people in them; choose a simple layout; use close rather than far viewpoints and if you find a photo that includes a repeating image, use it.
* Write for your audience
* Try to keep articles between 250 and 500 words long
* Hit them with a catchy headline
* Use uncluttered photos that feature people, disasters, puppy dogs
* Consider using a column name
* Use simple, straight-forward language
* Try some humour
* Select universal human interest themes
* Tie in topical issues?
The only thing I would add here for the Web page propagandist is a word about love at first sight. If your site isn’t immediately perceived to be useful,, informative, attractive and/or entertaining (ie. a good potential partner), no-one will want to stay with or return to it.