Can’t print and digital media all just get along?

The debate over ebooks and their printed ancestors rages on. I see no reason for them to be at war with each other.

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Magazines on the other hand, are having to decide how their articles and news reaches their audience. My articles have been published both on- and offline, I’ve seen the differences.

Where I Write

I write for LeftLion – Nottingham’s free print magazine – which publishes its articles on paper and online, and HeartofGlass magazine – a purely online publication. Both are free. Copies of LeftLion are delivered throughout Nottingham for anyone to pick up. I’m not sure how much HeartofGlass pays for its site hosting, or there is any cost – but they certainly don’t charge their readers anything.

Despite LeftLion being the longer-running of the two, I don’t feel as connected to them. I only write on a casual basis. Either I pitch an article to them, or pick from an email that is sent to all contributors. Thanks to LeftLion, I have been able to interview David Almond (author of Skellig) and Peter V Brett, an American fantasy novelist. I am a ‘fan’ of both, and talking to them was a dream come true.

I do not have a regular submission requirement for LeftLion, but am required to write an article fortnightly for HeartofGlass. For this reason I define myself as a columnist for HeartofGlass, but only a contributor for LeftLion. This regular deadline for HeartofGlass means I am more likely to send my pitches and ideas to them – which is okay. LeftLion is regional, and I would not send them the same stories.

The Two Mediums
If I know my article will be print or online, the way I write changes. Marshall McLuhan famously said ‘the medium is the message’, meaning that the form a message is given in (TV, Radio, speech, etc.) affects the message itself. Print articles can only be as long as there is space on the page, but when writing for the web I can have all the space I want… right? Not so. A reader can only process so much information. Just because I can post something of 2,000 words does not mean anyone will want to read it, nor is it an excuse to ramble.

Without the columns of print magazines, it is a good idea to cut articles into ‘chunks’ with headings. Not only does this help the reader, it helps to keep your article coherent and flowing from one topic to the next. Sub-headlines also change – not significantly, but it’s there. Not only do they have to explain what the article is about, but due to the nature of websites, it can help to use keywords. This serves several purposes. One, to help your readers to find your article. Two, readers tend to scan, then read. A clever, witty title might not make it clear what your article is about – time for a subheading.

Blogs, Articles and Editorials…
… aren’t exactly the same, and I admit, it took me several pokes from an editor for me to fully understand. Each has a different purpose:

A blog article contains opinions and information, and is updated on a regular basis.
An article may contain news, debate or instructions on ‘how to’ do something.
An editorial reflects the writer’s opinion on a topic. While all three of these are non-fiction, editorials often reflect the beliefs of the publication, (and can be more biased than blogs.)

I struggled with the informal tone of my articles, wanting to present my words in a chatty way. This wasn’t entirely successful, and is something I’m still working on. If you write a blog, it is excellent practise for article-writing. Just make sure to look for the differences.

Thanks to the digital age, a writer needn’t be tied to a telephone. I communicate with editors through email. I might peek at what they have to say on twitter occasionally, or join in a discussion on the private HeartofGlass forum… but essentially, writers need plenty of ways for editors to contact them, and works even better for writers who check these communication channels often.

Waiting for a Copy
Once I’ve submitted an article, I plough on with other work, but this doesn’t stop me itching to know when my article will be printed or published online. If I published my writing on my blog, they would be online in an instant, and I would know exactly how many people were reading it, directing them through my website. But then again, my work would not have been edited (which makes all the difference between self-publishing and not), nor would it reach the readers of that magazine.

Whether online or not, a writer still needs to wait for the publication date, and hope that the editor lets you know when and where you can find it. LeftLion is sent all over Nottingham, and as I’m not entirely sure where it is delivered, I tend to go to a coffee shop each month and hope that there are still some issues left. With HeartofGlass, the editor-in-chief puts a link to each article up on facebook as soon as it has been published. Social media snaps it up straight away, and there’s a short boom of hits and visits to your stories.

To Print, or not to Print
I love the rush of seeing my name in print, but at the risk of sounding like a sell-out, I’ll happily sacrifice that for being printed online. Why? Because my words will circulate so much further thanks to social messaging (facebook, twitter etc.) I’m currently studying at University, and being published online means I can send friends and family a link, and post it on my blog. I get more readers, the magazines get more traffic and everyone is happy. I sometimes miss the smell of newspaper ink, the feel of paper in my hands, but thanks to LeftLion – I can have both. I’m not sure which is more effective, as LeftLion is also online. So I’ll watch, I’ll wait, and try to keep my head above the water in this industry which doesn’t dare to predict what it will become in five, ten, or twenty years time.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

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