Aug

14

 A friend recently sent me this interesting article by Steven Pressfield on the most important writing lesson he ever learned .

I agree with the three answers Pressfield supplies to get your copy read. However, I disagree with much of the rest. First, "Advertising lies…it's evil, it's phony…" Fact is you can trust advertising copy a lot further than the Editorial content that may run immediately adjacent to it.

Misrepresentation in an ad can actually wind up getting you prosecuted. fined or sentenced to public service (rarely is anyone tossed in the clink). In any event, the result is usually a career killer. Editorial writers (columnists and editorial page contributors), on the other hand, under cover of the "opinion piece" label, can play with facts a lot more loosely. If they are very adept at it, they'll find themselves syndicated; if they're geniuses at it, they'll make it to the electronic circuit as guest contributors (with modest to healthy stipends). If they're really, really good, they can become press secretary to the President.

Pressfield is not totally correct that "nobody" wants to read your sh*t. A great majority read sh*t because they HAVE to. It might be just to find who has the cheapest can of coffee, who has the best deal on a new mattress, a used car, or who is featuring the cheapest movies. The great myth (at least in the newspaper business) was the editorialist's contention that the paper was chosen for the singular purpose of reading their collective thoughts.

The greatest presentation I ever attended featured our computer geeks demonstrating for the editorial staff what the product would look like when transferred to an electronic format. One amongst them, and by means a rookie, asked why advertising was included in the electronic version much as it would be in the paper itself. Couldn't it just be pushed to the back, grouped together, and left for the unwashed to search out much as they did with our Classified ads?

The lead presenter was a very young new employee who had been brought on for his computer expertise. Unaware of the deference that editorial was used to receiving, he proceeded to reveal some research on the primary reason (what feature did they turn to first) our subscribers bought the paper. First bomb: on any given day, anywhere from 25-45% of our readers bought the paper for the ads (Thursday, food advertising day, had the highest percentage). Bomb two, 8-10% of our very tony readership turned first to Ann Landers, another 8% to the comics, 7% for the crossword puzzle, 5% to the horoscope, another 5% to the bridge column. Among editorial's heavyweights only Mike Royko and Siskel/Ebert made a measurable impression.

After reading Pressfield's biography, I'm a little surprised at his perspective. He and I are the same age and entered the business about the same time. We were fortunate in having what may well wind up being the last generations of engaged readers responding to or rejecting our selling messages. Selling to today's "Tweet Generation" though, must be a real challenge and I'm glad I'm out.


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