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A Realtors'® Guide for Writing for Digital: Lessons From the Classroom

by Carlene Hempel | Aug 30, 2017
As a journalist and specifically, as a journalism professor, I’m often asked how I feel about my “dying industry.” People wonder what I teach in my classes now that the profession, and the art of writing, has given way to a universe of limited attention spans hooked on short, blogosphere dispatches and 140-character tweets.
I always answer the same way: With a shake of my head, and a short speech on how a changing landscape for writers does not mean a withering one. Indeed, print newspapers are struggling, and for those of us who grew up with a morning or even an afternoon paper, that’s both gut wrenching and nerve wracking to witness.

But the truth is that online newspapers and magazines are reaching millions of old and new readers. And while advertisers and marketers continue to try and figure out how to charge for content, those of us who create it have no shortage of interested readers.

The key is how to harness a digital universe as opposed to a print one. They are different, and it’s a mistake to think otherwise. People consume online differently than they do in print. They have begun to think through a hyper-linked lens. They want their writers to make connections for them, to include additional context that shouldn’t interrupt the narrative but should be available if they choose to engage with it.

What might that look like? Decide that your website, blog or social post must include an additional punch-list of dynamic elements. And then strategize what those could be.

 For example:

Hyperlinks: Look for circumstances to highlight text that serves as a link to another document. This could lead clients to statistics referenced in an article to support a point, or to a town’s government website, or to regulations referenced in a piece.

Video: It’s not difficult to include short recordings to accompany traditional text. These could be quick interviews with a client at a home you sold or have listed, or an expert about new regulations. They could be embedded via hyperlinks or uploaded onto YouTube and displayed as a separate, clickable short that would appear in a full
frame within the text. 

Slideshows: Embed a series of photos with short or extended captions to illustrate one element of a piece.

Surveys: Embed a quick survey into a piece to gauge readers’ reactions to the topic, or to ask a question, or to ask advice on further article topics.

Pop-up text: Include a section of highlighted text that, when moused over, produces a sidebar of information that pops up to the right of the main text and disappears once the mouse moves again. Think of this as a footnote function, and a way to deliver additional information without interrupting the flow of the main piece.

These are just a few examples – all of which are easily attainable. (No expensive web producer required.) The point is that successfully writing for digital doesn’t require reinventing the wheel, but it certainly requires reimagining it. To not understand that is to not understand the power of the medium at your fingertips and the tremendous potential it has to deliver your message to current and future clients.

Carlene Hempel is a teaching professor in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University. She can be reached at c.hempel@northeastern.edu.