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Greg Brown

10 Reasons Why You Should Never Write a ‘10 Reasons’ Article

Greg Brown Editorial - 01/12/2011-12:22 PM

Would you start a speech to a business audience with the dictionary definition of some word, as in "Webster's defines ‘procrastination' as..." etc?

You wouldn't dream of it. The cliché to end all clichés, right?

Well, bad news. The "list" article is dead, too. I am declaring it dead with my very own list which, if we're at all lucky, will be the very last one to appear on the Internet. Ever.

Here goes:

No. 10: It was a dumb idea when magazines did it to death 10 years ago. Now look where they are.

No. 9: You don't really have 10 good ideas. You have maybe two, three at a stretch. Why push it?

No. 2 through No. 8: See reason No. 9.

(Drumroll, please...) And here's No. 1: Way, way too many marketing people are dumping these list articles into social media.

See, I had one good idea: People should stop writing list articles. Their currency is shot, their meaning has vanished. Cliché.

So how should you organize a quick, snappy read for the Web that gets your great idea across? Well, you could write a list for yourself. Write down every single idea you have about a given topic.

Make it 20, 50, even 100. Brainstorming is a good thing. An even better thing is not sharing the brainstorming. Messy stuff.

Now take the one idea (just one!) that you truly care about and put it at the top of a blank page. And write.

Having tossed out dozens of "maybes" early, you can get excited about one idea. Excitement can easily turn into passion. The words will fly off your fingertips. Writing it will be fun, not a chore.

Readers sense that you care about an idea when you write simply, with passion. They get invested, and they tend to read. Really read.

You have their full attention. You win! Now stop. Get off the stage. Let readers move on with their busy days.

(Ahem, that's all. Thanks for reading.)

Greg Brown owns Interactive Content Partners, a provider of custom publishing services and private label content. In a previous life, he wrote stuff about people and things for money. Not much has changed.

Greg Brown

Another Web Article No One Will Read

Greg Brown emedia and Technology - 12/21/2010-11:06 AM

Let me tell you something funny about my dad: He laughs at me because I can type.

Seriously. Being able to touch-type, in his world, is akin to knowing how to operate a forklift or crank a leaf blower - skills for another class of person. Back in his day, only secretaries bothered with typing. If my dad needed to say something in print, he just rattled it off to a waiting secretary or spoke into a recorder.

He's a young guy, my father, a relatively early baby boomer. He's in touch with the Internet and has a cellular phone, but he maintains that typing is not a skill he would ever need.

Of course, in my line of work typing is like playing a musical instrument. Essential, beautiful a little bit, if it's done right. Frankly, I couldn't think in longhand if my life depended on it. It pains me to see people hunting and pecking their way through a letter or an e-mail. Literal pain. I have to look away.

Is it more efficient for me to communicate this way, pounding out ideas in print rather than, say, by doing public speaking or networking? Or less?

Doesn't matter. It's how I think now. Draft after draft.

I punch out a tweet here and there. An idea is born. Maybe it lives in an isolated little spot, unloved. (A new study out, much commented upon, notes that nearly half of the millions of Americans on Twitter don't read the site. They just tweet and move on.)

Once it exists, though, that bit of thought lodges in my own head for a while. There, I said it. What did I mean? I think some more. Then I write. Some of that ends up here.

In my view, Twitter has become the digital confessional box, a place to unload the things buzzing around in your brain. The logic of confessing your sins is to unburden yourself, and that is absolutely what happens. It's a kind of freedom.

Yes, there's a ton of marketing folks out there trying to convince everyone (and themselves) that Twitter is a conversation. If so, it's one of those rambling conversations with nobody you see overworked people having on subways, mumbling, checking pockets, lips moving but no sound.

I make it sound crazy, but it's actually pretty healthy, in my view. Not every stray thought needs a validation, or even a response. The trick is to look back at your own flow and take advantage of it as best you can.

If you have a follower or two who benefits as well, great.

If you are among the tiny slice of Americans who read Twitter - minus the celebrity-followers - super.

But keep on tweeting, I say. It's a good way to communicate, even if it's only to yourself.

Greg Brown owns Interactive Content Partners,
a provider of custom publishing services and private label content. In a
previous life, he wrote stuff about people and things for money. Not
much has changed. 

Greg Brown

Why I Quit Facebook

Greg Brown emedia and Technology - 12/09/2010-09:23 AM

What do you know? How do you know it?

Once upon a time - roughly when dinosaurs walked the earth, in media years - you knew what you knew because a cranky, literate, funny newspaper editor told you what you knew. This goes all the way back to Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, but the tradition of the gatekeeper only recently expired.

A lot of tears have fallen over the easily predictable death of newsprint (the machines, the ink, the trucks, all that money!) but far less over the end of the gatekeeper. We love our movie images of the rough-‘n'-gruff boss-editor type, so well-played by Robert Duvall in The Paper, and of course embodied by Ed Asner's Lou Grant from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. (Yeah, I'm old, I get it. See "dinosaurs," above.)

Who is that person in your life now? Tina Brown? Nick Denton? Some blogger who follows cat videos or hot stocks of the minute?

It's probably your mom.

Yeah, your mom. Or your buddy from high school. Or very likely that college friend who is all amped up about (insert random political topic) and believes you should be equally angry.

You know about all this because of social media. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, all of them are moving fast into the content aggregation business, if you could call it that, in the effort to bring you what's what faster and better. All the good stuff, no time wasted, no "media" interference.

Of course, the web is a full-on firehose of nonsense, so it needs organization. Enter the multitudes, your hundreds of social media friends. They do bring order to the chaos, yes, but it's a highly provincial, self-interested order.

You know these folks: Mad at Obama Friend, Mad at Boehner Friend, Mad About "Mad Men" Friend, and so on. It's a stampede of hobby horses. (Disclosure: I am as guilty as the next guy, which is part of the reason I quit.)

You likely joined Facebook, as I did, thinking it would be a good way to keep up on family happenings. You probably didn't realize you would learn instead about the daily droppings of the Kardashians. If only you had been specific about which family!

A lot of my friends from way back (see "dinosaurs," above) get upset about "the media," which is a special treat when that's your job. I point out - calmly, I might add - that it's a buffet. You hang around the dessert bar all day, gorging, you're going to get sick of it.

Social media, for better or worse, is an all-dessert buffet. A Golden Corral of media garbage, served up in heaping helpings. The only way to improve that diet is to improve your friends. Or log off.

Don't expect anyone to change. They are who they are. You consume by choice. Same as the old media worked, just faster.

Greg Brown owns Interactive Content Partners, a provider of custom publishing services and private label content. In a previous life, he wrote stuff about people and things for money. Not much has changed. 



Greg Brown

Mort Zuckerman's Brilliant Fade to Black

Greg Brown Consumer - 12/02/2010-10:15 AM

Right about now, you should be getting your last printed copy of U.S. News & World Report.

Sad, isn't it? I grew up a fan of the old weekly. I was reading "Washington Whispers" while most of my high school friends were flipping through ratty comic books or talking about MTV.

I looked down a bit on Newsweek and Time as hopelessly sleepy, middle-of-the-road books. Reading USN&WR was like belonging to a club. An annoying, smarty-pants club. The closest thing to it, probably, was The Economist, and I wouldn't geek out that much for another few years.

I won't miss it.

Why? Well, because, frankly, I don't miss it now. I haven't subscribed in years. I am part of the problem: They had me young (the marketer's dream) and now I'm in the thick of my earning years. Yet you won't find U.S. News in my house. I read a few mags here and there, but not one "newsweekly."

It's simple really. If TV has become a form of Internet for the disconnected, then newsweeklies are even further behind the curve. I can't read newspapers and print anymore. I read way, way too much online, all the time. Nearly anything and everything you care to print and mail to me, I have already seen, absorbed, and likely forgotten.

Which is why I was secretly thrilled to read that my favorite old book had bit the bullet and gone online for good. Owner and Editor-in-Chief Mort Zuckerman, who also owns the New York Daily News, has been on this course for a while, yes, but it suddenly made sense last month to stop chasing the print deadline.

See, I ran a magazine for a few years. One thing that bugged me then was putting together the annual edit calendar, the list of big stories we would publish.

Not that I minded thinking ahead. And I understood why the sales side would want time to go out and beat the bushes for upcoming issues on travel, banking, or whatever. More power to them. Without sales, you are sunk.

No, what bugged me was putting out 12 issues a year when six, maybe seven were winners. Our sales team knew when the ad budgets would get approved for the year. They knew when to strike. They knew exactly which issues were losers no matter what we said in the pages. The remainder was dead time for them. No budgets, no ad deals. Instead, they sold events, online, anything but print.

U.S. News had already fallen back from weekly to monthly. Now it's going to eight issues a year. It will be mostly the list issues they know will sell, "best colleges," "best hospitals," and so on.

It feels like a retreat to the writers and editors, I am sure, but eight great newsstand hits a year can pay for a lot of amazing web content. It's a perfect combination of custom-publishing common sense ("get the budget, then make the book") and web opportunism, that is, using all those rankings and lists to build a new, powerful online business.

More power to them.

Greg Brown owns Interactive Content Partners, a provider of custom publishing services and private label content. In a previous life, he wrote stuff about people and things for money. Not much has changed.