Washington Post article on Syria, content strategy principles

Note: I wrote this post in 2013, but never published it (for some reason). After having it marinade for almost a year, I finally decided it was worth publishing. This was also at the peak of the blown-out-of-proportion Miley/twerk hype

The other day I read one of my favorite pieces of writing this year. It was a simple article written by Max Fisher for the Washington Post… the article titled: “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask“.

The title alone calls for a specific audience, doesn’t it? We gather the article is a list… which is more in tune with how younger audiences (myself included) consume info these days. Buzzfeed-style… bullet points that get down to the heart of a story, and if you got a .gif for it, even better. It also taps into how our brains deploy information, as in what exactly gets priority in the info-consumption stage of our day.

Shame that the boring Miley Cyrus news took priority over the Syria stuff that week, but it is what it is. People on the Miley media high probably have zero clue what’s going on, and this article taps into that, with a surprising reverence. This writer isn’t out to humiliate you on the basis that you have no idea what’s going on in the world… and he’s not going to blame the internet for your ignorance… in actuality, this article embraces the internet with open arms.

Coming from a journalism background, I’m sympathetic to the “Mommy knows best” mentality of writing news in a traditional inverted pyramid format, etc. But if the newsroom wants to stay relevant, they’ll also have to change things up, and that means compromising their format.

Main thing to learn from this article is the content strategy behind it. Links to prior WP stories, Omar Souleyman music video embed, links to parodies of the Syria article itself, etc. This article tries to paint the full picture, content-wise, with bits of Syrian geography, context and culture. It’s one-two punch social studies lesson.

This story could’ve simply been a very meat-and-potatoes look at Syrian conflict, but instead the proggy Washington Post decided to write the story “for the web” so to speak.

Always strategize stories when they’re in the idea stage. How can we flip the script on people’s pre-concieved notion of this type of story, and simply make it different? Tap into all aspects of the story, whether it’s a song, map, related story, etc, and use it as part of the story experience. Essentially, rubberbanding the concept of digital content strategy for a story.

Bravo to the Washington Post on this one.

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