Politico co-founder and Axios Media CEO Jim VandeHei just explained what made his brand of journalism successful in an 85-word blog post, reinforcing his motto of “smart brevity.” Here are a couple highlights we can all learn from:
Obsess about your reader/viewer/listener. Their addiction/appreciation equals long-term biz success.
Related to first one: Never do stupid tricks for clicks or ad dollars. Short-term high but long-term buzz kill for biz/consumers.
These two items are at the core of everything we talk about at the front of the books: The audience matters most. If you don’t know for whom you are writing, you aren’t going to be able to help them or make them want to seek you out as a source of information.
In addition, the reason VandeHei and his crew can write so tightly is because they have a strong working knowledge of the topics on which they write. I can always spot the student with the least confidence in his/her writing when we review stuff in class because that person always has the longest and most complicated sentences. The people who know what they are talking about? They can boil it down to the noun-verb-object in nothing flat. Even if you aren’t in a reporting class, you have to “report” enough (read, ask questions, bother people etc.) to have a good grip on the topic. That will improve your writing.
If you don’t know with precision what your company is doing broadly, and what you are doing personally, run. Clarity of purpose is .
This is more about making the company successful, but it falls nicely in with our discussion of writing. One of the hardest shifts we have to make in learning to write for the media is from the long, descriptive-filled sentences of English, sociology and history papers to the noun-verb-object, bang-it-out structure we use in our field. After years of writing one way, it can feel frustrating to strip a sentence down to its core.
The reason we need to do this is to give people what they need to know quickly and simply. That’s our purpose.
And after taking four times the word count to explain half of what VandeHei had to say, I’ll end here for the sake of “smart brevity.”