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What does this story mean to the reader?

April 21, 2011

woman reading, by goXunuReviews

Back in my newsroom days, we were scrappy and lean, but we had one tremendous advantage.

A writing coach.

Clarke Stallworth, a reporter from the earliest days of the Birmingham Post-Herald, nudged his way into the newsroom as a columnist and as a coach. Our publisher had the good sense to bring him in to help us with our most basic task, writing.

Alas, not every young reporter and editor took him seriously. What can you teach us, old man? We are Internet and cell phones and 21st-century Journalism.

But a few of us did pay attention.

One of Clarke’s nuggets of wisdom was focusing on the audience. He gave us each a strip of paper to tape to the top of our monitors, so we would see it with every new story we started. Printed on that strip …

What does this story mean to the reader?

If we couldn’t answer that question, we really didn’t have a story on our hands. We might have a nice pile of filler material, but nothing that meant a real impact on the lives of the people in our community.

I teach it in my writing and blogging classes. Are you writing for your audience, or are you just writing for you? One has meaning, the other has mere ego.

One of my newsletter subscribers picked up on that. I wrote about digging to find the meaning of your blog. Does it nurture the soul?

Javacia Harris Bowser read that and thought, “Whoa, that’s a bit too heavy for a Tuesday.”

But then, to her credit, she pondered what she had studied in church and in other emails. And she decided to crystallize her purpose:

“Today, I am committing to being more intentional about what I write here, because one day, when you’re considering what nourishes your soul, I want you to think of GeorgiaMae.com.”

That is fantastic. Now I know I have to read more, because I know this writer is dedicated to considering readers first and giving them substantial material to weigh.

Javacia is going the extra mile, because she already formed a Birmingham-based women writers’ networking group, See Jane Write. I love when professionals reach out to use their skills and knowledge to lift others up.

That is meaningful. That has true purpose.

That is going beyond writing the story for the reader. It is extending your hand to the reader in friendship and in generosity.

With every post, think about Clarke’s basic question: What does this story mean to the reader? If every reporter and writer would answer it honestly, we’d have more great stories to read and fewer head-scratchers.

And when you want to get a bit heavy, consider this: What do you mean to the reader?

Photo: goXunuReviews (CC)

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2011 8:30 pm

    Thanks for the mention, Wade, and thanks for this post. I’m going to tape that question (What does this story mean to the reader?) to my notebook and make it the screensaver on my laptop.

    • April 22, 2011 1:32 am

      You’re welcome. Clarke would be pleased with your initiative.

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