A Tale Of Two Articles

Yes, a terrible pun that has been used many times before… but it’s very accurate. This month (March 2018) in Encore magazine I did have two articles, on two different topics:

  • The Marmalade Dog game convention at Western Michigan University
  • Slot car racing at the Gilmore Car Museum

They’re both “nerdy” hobbies, that’s true, but that’s also something I focus on when writing for Encore (just recently I wrote about cosplay, and computer games, tabletop games and much more in the past). So it stands to reason that I’d write about them.

Actually writing the articles is one part of the process, but it’s actually toward the end of everything that needs to be done.

The Pitch

When people find out I write magazine articles, they ask if I have to come up with the ideas (and if so, how do I come up with them?). The answer is “sometimes, and other times they’re presented to me.” For this month’s articles it was one of each. I’ve attended the Marmalade Dog several times in the past — I’m a fan of tabletop games, and it’s very nearby — so I thought a profile on the convention would be a good compliment to the other “nerdy” articles I’ve written about before. Slot cars was offered to me by my editor, but I readily agreed to write it, since learning about obscure little hobbies is pretty fun for me.

The Interviews

This is the real part of reporting, even feature reporting like I’m doing here: talking to people. Pick up the phone, send an email, ask around about who to talk to in order to learn more. The internet has been the perfect tool for this; when I was starting out as a journalist, there were BBS and primitive sites like Prodigy, but they were definitely not the first place you went for information. Now, a quick web search turns up an email address or a phone number (note: if you want people to reach you, don’t require them to fill out a contact form, give them options so they can better explain what they want, instead of cramming it into your little form).

Contact Form

This is OK, but not just this. (image: 1stwebdesigner.com)

 

Figure out what you want to ask about first. I ask myself what a reader would want to know and ask that; even if I already know the answer, it’s good to hear it from an expert’s mouth (plus, I could be wrong). People are also protective of their time, and if you can’t explain the story you want to write, they’ll feel they’re wasting their time talking to you.

Ask questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.” You can’t write an article if you don’t have enough material to work with, after all. Also ask for statistics (number of participants, amount of money spent, length of time devoted to the project, etc.). Just like on a resume, everyone appreciates seeing concrete figures; it’s something to hold on to.

That’s where I start when I’m working on an article.

My Secret To Success

The secret to success in the modern world of business is by offering value, providing something unique that you know people want. That’s a contrast to the “old days,” when people would find you because your business listing in the Yellow Pages started with AAA. And as I have written about before (a long time ago), monetizing journalism — making a living as a professional writer — is a puzzle that no one has solved. There are attempts to go into niches, the thousands of specialty magazines in the market today… for example, magazines about Kalamazoo and Lansing.

As I mentioned last time, here’s what I see is my value: I write short. I find out what’s important, and say it in a clear, concise way. I tell the audience what it really needs to know about the product or service, or news item, or whatever the topic is. How to earn money from that? Well, that’s what journalism is, explaining what’s really important, whether it’s the results of a new governmental policy or the need to highlight a small group of people doing something fun. It’s all about communication, and that is a job that does pay.

That's the goal, to get paid.

That’s the goal, to get paid. (image: John Ridley)

 

Back to our old question: how to monetize journalism? The answer is: you don’t. You can’t, even at the New York Times, which charges you to read most of their articles (called a paywall). They lift the paywall pretty regularly, and there’s ways to get around it. You can’t get paid (much) to write articles, though the magazines I write for have been fair and reasonable. Article writing isn’t a goal. It’s a tool to get to the goal, promoting yourself and your skills.  That’s how interviewees see it too: they want to be shown in the best possible light in a newspaper or a magazine, because people who read that article will then want to find out more about them, and ultimately pay them.

People won’t read an article about me, but they can see plenty of articles that I have written, and from there get an idea of what I can write, and what I can do to promote their business. That’s the secret to success, good content promoted well. That’s what we’re working on here.

Improving The Site: What You Should See

Whew! A month (more) has passed since I last updated this blog here on the site. I am writing content other places but here, not as much. I do post updates whenever I have a new article published in one of the magazines I write for; it’s a great way to meet people locally, and I know it has a “long tail” — I’ll be the only one writing about Common Ground Church in Kalamazoo (unfortunately, it closed its doors this summer), for future historians to look back on.

It’s a place for both my work and my hobbies: I think both should be together, since both are part of who I am. It could use some touch-ups, though, so I’ll be working on that next. More activity coming for the site as I determine what it is I want to see here.

  • A simple list of articles and game material, with a little animation to make it more visually interesting
  • A regularly updated blog featuring updates on what I’m working on
  • More outbound links and suggested sites

This is all very straightforward, simple stuff, if you have any experience with web design. But it’s easy to overlook if you haven’t paid any attention to your own site… which is what is happening to me.