Modern day writers are not preserves of information — they are conduits and must act as such if they are to stay relevant

I blog about all manner of things happening in the tech world. Often, I choose to concentrate on specifics like mobile technology. I have been doing this for quite some time now and learned many things along the way. The most important one is that I, as a conveyor of news — good or bad — am not the end to my readers’ means of accessing information.

I’ve never been for this assumption that any information I’ve bumped into is exclusive to me. No, it is not. Just that not everyone is talking about it doesn’t mean that they don’t know about it. Plus, is that “everyone”’s work reporting? So, they are minding their own business and you shouldn’t assume that they don’t know. Just put yourself in their shoes and think about what you’d want to know more if you were them.

Thanks to the interesting times we live in, by the time I sit down to put something down on my laptop, chances are that my would-be reader has already heard about what I’m writing from another source that is not me or my publication. As such, it’s stupid for me to act all naive and go ahead with either a headline or content that assumes that I am breaking the same news to them.

The dawn of the age of the internet has meant that journalists, and now bloggers, need to do more than break news. Writers need to do more than just tell a story.

When you sit down to write (I’ve recently discovered that others prefer to write while standing so whatever works for you), remember that you are writing for a modern, updated and, at times, unforgiving audience.

News breaks on Twitter, opinions are aired on Facebook and images and videos with the backstory are shared on Instagram and Snapchat. As a journalist, blogger, writer or whatever you call yourself, you’re just a conduit and your content should reflect that at the very least. Since you are not delivering something that is unheard of — we’re no longer living in the days of the newspaper arriving next morning with all the news — do more!

Today, technology reporting is no longer a niche segment. Many still regard it as such but it has evolved. I have been covering wearables that are more stylish and likely to entice fashionistas than they are to excite geeks. When I’m writing about such, I have to cover the device as the geek would want — specifications and all — while still not leaving everyone who is not a geek behind or estranging the geek in the process since they are both my readers. It’s a thin line but I, and you, must walk it.

Tech, as we know it, has evolved to cover every sphere of our lives. When you have that at the back of your head then you will remember that your would-be audience may be a mile or two ahead of you every time and there’s little you can do to change that. It’s a new world. This complicates matters because to stay relevant, you must not only catch up but also try to stay ahead.

How do you do that?

Give your audience something that expands their already held view of the subject matter or that widens their perception of it. One of my favourite go-to sites these days is vox.com. Vox goes a step further every day to explain the things in mainstream press. Just look at how they brilliantly explained the Panama Papers story using a piggy bank analogy.

Not many of us will have the resources at the disposal of vox.com’s writers and editors for research and information gathering but we can all rely on our accumulated knowledge of different subjects and subject matters to offer something more to the reader. For instance, as someone who writes on technology, I can count on my experience covering certain subject matters over the last five years to explain things better. Or I can turn to my four years of studying tech in college to be in a better position to place things in context and give the reader more.

It is okay to cover things as they happen. It is not okay to just stop there. It doesn’t matter how you do it — inside the same news piece or in a separate post — just make sure you do it!

 

Writing Crap

I probably overuse the word crap when talking. People who’ve met me can attest to that. However, I believe I am not overusing or even misusing it in the context I have placed it in this article. I will tell you why.

It has been interesting watching blogging grow in Kenya over the last five or so years. To place it in a strictly Kenyan urban context, blogging is the new ‘DJ’ing’. Everyone and their cat has a blog. Just like everyone who had Virtual DJ installed on their entry-level HP laptop was a disc jockey back in college.

The beauty of seeing blogging in Kenya grow is that it has since reached levels where blogs and bloggers have become not just alternative media but also, the go-to media. You only need to read that hit Imperial Bank three-part series by @Owaahh to understand why.

I won’t get into the long-drawn debate of where the line between blogging and journalism is drawn or blurs. What I know is that the end result is the same: bloggers end up informing, educating, entertaining and even influencing policy, just as journalists and traditional media houses have done for hundreds of years now.

When you talk about bloggers in Kenya you are opening a can of worms since law enforcers regard just about anyone with a social media presence (which is basically all of us on the internet, ok, most of us) as a blogger. No, I am not referring to those. My limited definition of bloggers is those who post whatever they have on platforms like this one and others like Blogger, WordPress or self-hosted ones. Those ones.

As may be known to you, I do blog. Heck, I’ve been doing this for longer than I thought I would. Even as we revel in the growth of blogging in the country, we need to take a step back and re-evaluate what we are putting out there. Not in the same sense that some guys in higher places would want (to gag us) but at a very basic level. The writing itself.

I read hundreds of blog posts on any given day. In doing so, once in a while I venture from my fixed reading list to see what other new stuff there is. Once in a while I will find a fantastic blog that I immediately subscribe to. Most times, though, I find crap. Again, I’m not misusing that word, I believe.

I have formed a habit of sharing anything I read and find either interesting, informative or relevant to ongoing discussions on my social media feeds (like this ludicrous one of national values and morals being spearheaded by a film classification board chairman). Once in a while I will get an email or a WhatsApp message requesting me to share particular content since I do so often. I always share the same if it meets my very low threshold of being interesting, informative or relevant. Just that. Yet most of these don’t. Not because they are not interesting or informative or relevant. No. They are just, crap.

Why?

There are some basics. If you are going to write in English then make sure it is proper English. Basic proper English. Nothing complex. Not all of us are Jackson Bikos. Heck, if you are a tech blogger like I am then your work is not telling stories like Magunga does. You just get to your text editor and …

For most bloggers, what’s lacking is basic editing skills. You read a piece by a blogger and you start wondering whether they wrote it while they were half asleep or with a gun pointed at their head. At that time the said blogpost is on something very interesting, something you’re itching to share with your social circles but you just can’t get yourself to do it.

Part of the problem lies in the evolution of local blogs into authoritative news sources. Politics, business, technology, sports… name it. We have Kenyan blogs covering it all. In the process, basic editing skills have been thrown out in the rush to get the clicks, the mad traffic, the 1 million hits per month, the AdSense dollars.

I am not a big fan of Kenya’s print media but I am a big crusader of the freedom (responsible) brought about by blogging platforms. However, while we are at it, quality need not be compromised. In your rush to break news, edit your work, proof read, have someone look at it. For those with proper setups, have an editor who actually looks at things. You visit a rather high profile blog, look at the mistakes made on the articles being posted and you’re left just there wondering if this is the digital media that everyone is saying (correctly) is the future.

New native digital media powerhouses like BuzzFeed and Vox Media have grown by not just understanding the new generation of readers and content consumers but on also getting things out of the door fast (breaking news while traditional media houses take their time) while still not sacrificing whatever it is that will make you read a 700-page book for hours on end daily until you are on the last page.

Blogs and other forms of new media appeal to the younger generation that treasures 150-word news articles and the like but if there’s anything we can learn from print media then it is editing (not gagging) ourselves properly. Most foreign blogs I follow are so good at this. So much that I am left reading the published works and not seeing 12 mistakes in the first paragraph of a blogpost and 20 others elsewhere in the same post. You need not go far. Open your Twitter, check the trending topics (pick any hashtag) and see the links flying around. Pick any from a random blog. Look for me I buy you coffee if you don’t come across any that is, by your standards (not mine), crap.