Social media design: Making your cafe suitable for Instagram popularity

This article by Casey Newton on The Verge offers all of you design people a new twist.  It chronicles the ways that some new restaurants are designing their interiors and exteriors to become ‘Instagrammable.’

How better to draw customers than to go viral, right?

The Verge, by the way, is an online media site with big goals:

The Verge is an ambitious multimedia effort founded in 2011 to examine how technology will change life in the future for a massive mainstream audience.

Our original editorial insight was that technology had migrated from the far fringes of the culture to the absolute center as mobile technology created a new generation of digital consumers. Now, we live in a dazzling world of screens that has ushered in revolutions in media, transportation, and science. The future is arriving faster than ever.

Keep your eye on sites like these.


Story structure: Here’s a long-form example from Sports Illustrated

This poignant piece about how elite distance runner Gabriele Grunewald is coping with repeated instances of cancer offers a nice chance to study a piece of narrative writing that includes a non-chronologic structure.

It’s also just a real good story to read to appreciate Grunewald’s efforts — and what her resolve and her personal growth teaches us.

We mentioned in class that modern films often jump from one time period to another, not always in chronologic sequence.  In other words, they can switch time periods, from the present to the past and back to present — or more.

A good piece of writing can do this too, especially lengthier feature stories that follow the lives of people over time.  So here we see a nice story by longtime reporter Tim Layden that begins with a scene from the past, then moves forward to develop the main character’s story, then jumps back into the deeper past — and then finally ends with the runner’s outlook now.

As you read this, try following the structural turns.  This is primarily a narrative.  It begins with a key scene: The discovery.  When does the writer switch scenes?  When is he move into explanation to help us make sense of Grunewald’s story?  When does he slip us back into the past — and how does he bring us back?  Study.  This is how we learn.  First we study; then we try.

Notice, too, the amount of information Layden provides.  How many times did he interview Grunewald and others?  Where did he find the running stats? How does a media writer become well-enough informed about a rare type of cancer to report authoritatively?  How many years, do you suppose, did he observe Grunewald, knowing something of her battle, before he set out to write about her?

You may not want to become a feature writer for a magazine, but the fundamentals still apply.  (1) Find your idea, then (2) your angle. (3) Carry out lots of research. (4) Organize (map) your structure.  (5) Write a draft.  (6) Revise until it’s wonderful.

The more you practice, the better you’ll get.  And when you write stories like these about people like Gabriele Grunwald, well, it keeps you in touch with why we’re alive.  And perhaps it helps others to stay in touch.  I imagine Tim Layden wrote a few stories like this before he gained this high degree of command and artfulness.

It comes with informed, focused practice.

Some familiar magazines may be sold as Time Inc. balances priorities

Now that you’re weighing careers in the media industry, you should be paying attention to the owners and actors as the digital revolution continues.  To put it simply, it’s important to know who owns what — and where media companies are going.

As this piece in AdWeek reports, parent company Time Inc. is leaning toward selling a few well-known magazines as publishers shift their thinking — and investing — toward video production.  Why?  Well, partly because they expecting to find more growth in digital brands’re realizing that consumers will endure ads on video clips more than they’ll seek out ads on printed pages.

That said, we should note that Time owns a bunch of magazines and isn’t offering to sell some other favorites like People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Travel + Leisure.

Time Inc., of course, is always changing to adjust to markets.  It acquired both Southern Living and Sunset magazines about a decade ago.  Sunset is the West Coast version of this sort of lifestyle mag.  Developed by family-run Lane Publishing, it was a must-have on many living-room tables as I was growing up in California.  At issue: Will this genre last with its regional travel, food and home how-to-do-it articles?

You can follow industry news by bookmarking and reading sources like Adweek and Advertising Age, which cover media organizations as well as business that advertise with them.   And, of course, you can find many more sites.

This agency seeks to feed starving people caught in civil war in Yemen

After watching a news clip last night on hunger among war victims in Yemen, I looked for the website of an agency trying to help war victims in the Middle East.  Action Against Hunger is one of those agencies, and this article is one of many on its site aiming to persuade readers to offer help.

The piece is an overview offering a fast inventory of what it calls a ‘devastating humanitarian crisis.’  It explains what workers for Action Against Hunger are trying to do to keep people from starving.  This is a piece that relies on evidence.  For instance, it says that more than 18 million people in Yemen don’t know the source of their next meal. It notes that Yemen is the poorest nation in the Arab world.  To give a sense of the agency’s potential effect there, the story describes its workers as a ‘170-strong team.’ The keyword there is strong, as in we can do it.  Ultimately, this is a fact-based appeal for money and support to save people’s lives.

Do facts work when people are dying?  Can an article on a website prompt us to donate?

At issue is what we call ‘compassion fatigue.’  Experts who study such appeals have lately been suggesting that appeals built around people and their successes can reduce this fatigue — but in Yemen, I suppose, the agency needs more support before it can demonstrate much success.  I thought this last line in the article was its strongest, and I hope readers stayed with the piece to the finish:

Yemen is one of the most forgotten humanitarian crises worldwide. Children and their families need urgent help.

An agency job that focuses on writing, editing

Since, thanks to Kaylin, we’ve been referring to Pace Communications in Greensboro, let’s examine a description for an opening there called senior editor.

This is a full-time position at the mid-senior level, requiring five to seven years of professional experience.  It’s not an entry-level job, but it speaks to the future for people who refine their skills in editing and writing.  It’s a job for a word person.  The agency also has a lower-level position called editor, and we have a few Elon grads in those slots.

Here’s the position summary:

The Senior Editor leads the creation of all assets for an account or various work streams on an account or project, as an editor and/or writer. Reports to the Creative Director or Associate Creative Director.

This person is responsible for writing and editing all content types including video scripts, short-and-long form articles, white papers, digital and social, display and body copy. Candidates must have a deep understanding of the emotional and tactical needs for target audiences, channels and platforms.

You can see the full announcement here.

Writing the summary lead for folks in a hurry

A big challenge in writing for the media is learning to craft fast summaries. As we said in class, most readers are in a hurry when they glance at our pages and sites, or when they click on a broadcast to listen.

Our job: Boil down the information. Give our audience what they want and need.

Some digital sites specialize in this.  One of those is called Ozy, and its mission is to help occasional readers get up to speed quickly. This is how its editors describe their goal.

Here is an example in its coverage of White House adviser Jared Kushner’s testimony on his exchanges with Russian officials.  How does a writer summarize an 11-page document and a few hours of testimony?  The Ozy treatment avoids ‘mumbling’ by beginning with this:

He’s got “nothing to hide.” So says senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, insisting he never worked with Russia to aid his father-in-law’s election.

Podcasting: A new form to study and learn

Artwork by Zak Bickel / Katie Martin / Paul Spella / The Atlantic

We often imagine that writing occurs where we read words, such as in ink on paper or pixels on screens.  Let’s consider now a relatively new form, the podcast, in which we don’t read the words — we hear them.

But many of those words are written long before we hear them.

Media analysts claim that podcasts are likely to become a standard form in a digital world.  In a society rich with headsets and earbuds, we like to listen as well as tune out the noise we don’t need.  Podcasts fill the needs.  They give us chances to seek out special information and interesting voices.  They also give advertisers another means of aiming their messages at precisely the groups they seek.

Can you write for a podcast?  You can weigh your prospects by answering a few questions: What does it take? How are podcasts structured?  What sorts of research and interviewing go into their creation?  And ask this: How does the requirement to write for the ear influence the way we compose sets of words and sentences?

You can check out this compilation of The Best Podcasts of 2016 as offered by writers for The Atlantic, a monthly magazine and an everyday website that appeals to young and educated folks.  Pick a favorite and test yourself:  What will it take to be part of a team creating compelling podcasts.

Welcome to our blog

This is our work area, practice turf, public square.  You’ll all have chances to post in words and images.

First you’ll need to register with WordPress to create a username and password.

  1. Go to by clicking here.
  2. Sign up.  Invent a username that is some identifiable form of your name. Mine is GWScott.  (Your Elon username might work.)  You might find yourself using this  WordPress username in other courses and projects, so keep it simple and obvious (partly so future employers can link your name to your good work).
  3. WordPress may give you a prompt to create a blog.  Don’t click there.  You’re joining an existing blog at this moment.  You may create your own in the future, but not now.  All you need now is to register.
  4. I’ll send you an invitation via email to join our course blog. Just click on that and key in username and password when prompted.  Once you’re confirmed as an author, you’ll be ready to post.