Robert Pimm

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How to write great Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers: part 3

So you want to write a brilliant blog or newspaper article?  Help is at hand, in three easy stages.

First: decide your message, and make sure people want to read about it.  Part 1 of this series, 7 tips for writing the perfect article, explores how to ensure your piece will land well (links in bold italics are to other posts on this web-site).

Next: structure your article.  Part 2 of this series, Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers, sets out a simple 4-step template to write your piece – including how to get started.

What else?  Practice makes perfect.  Read pieces critically.  Understanding how others use these techniques will help you do the same.  Here, in Part 3 of the series, are two more worked examples.  I hope you find them helpful.  If you do, please feel free to re-post this series, or draw it to the attention of others.

Nut-grafs and cosmic kickers: two worked examples

The following article appeared in the Financial times of 22 October 2004.  It includes all the four elements – Lede, Nut-graf, Body and Cosmic Kicker – set out in Part 2 of this series.

Where even experts fear to tread

[Lede]

The Valluga II cable car above St. Anton is one of those boxy, old-fashioned affairs that sways from one mountain peak to another across a gulf of nothingness. At the entrance is a sign showing a pair of skis, crossed out. Next to it, to avoid any confusion, the words: NO SKIS.

“What’s that?” I ask Willi, a fellow skier with whom I am about to enter the six-person cabin.

“It’s OK,” he says. “It means no skis unless you have a guide.”

[Nut-graf]

For skiers who have mastered the basics, the benefits of skiing with a guide are not always clear-cut.  Holidays are all about freedom to do what you want, when you want, and to escape the workplace hierarchy. So it seems perverse to yoke yourself to someone who’s going to tell you where to go and what to do when you get there, especially when you have to pay them handsomely for the privilege. But a good guide can raise the quality of a day’s skiing from enjoyable to sublime. That’s why, when I make my next annual pilgrimage to Lech, in the Arlberg region of western Austria, I’ll be joining Class 3A (or maybe 2B) for at least half my stay to be guided around a resort I already know intimately.

Looking up the hill after the passage of a 3A class in Lech, February 2019 (more…)

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Things are getting worse, right? Wrong. Here’s why.

‘I saw this terrible news today.’  My friend, a sensible person, is distressed.  ‘A terrorist group is breeding babies to be brought up as fresh soldiers for their cause.  How can we resist such fanaticism?’

‘Don’t worry,’ I say.  ‘It’s probably a mix of propaganda and sensationalism.’

I’ve written before about how the Internet is filled with misleading nonsense (“a vortex of vacuity; a crisis of kaka; a whirlwind of piss-poor polarisation”) in one of my most popular blogs: The Internet.  7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation.

Lesotho: one of the most beautiful countries on earth has a dismal life expectancy – Photo RP

I’ve also written about the elegant Tuchman’s Law (hit the link for the full article), which says: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (more…)

Paris, the Internet, and the FT

My recent blog “The Internet. 7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation” set out troubling facts about this most wonderful of inventions.

One of my concerns was that:

“the Internet polarises opinion.  Imagine a billion people in a desert, shouting.  Who can shout loudest?  The best way to attract online attention is to be shocking and extreme.  Slag someone off.  Be outrageous.  You know that famous, reasonable, internet commentary site?  No?  That’s because there isn’t one.  You can’t be reasonable and famous on-line.”

So I was interested to see this weekend in The Financial Times a piece by Simon Kuper, “Paris attacks: Notes from a wounded city” (NB if you don’t have a subscription to the FT, you can sign up to read the piece – and several more every month – free).

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Kuper’s piece is characteristically thoughtful. I like his resistance to simplifying everything – particularly anything as tragic as the Paris attacks. But I was most struck by his comment that in the world of punditry and politics, “the people with the clearest messages win“.

Thus, Kuper suggests, if you want to look at the world in a more nuanced way – he quotes a man who asked of the 13 November events “with what perception must I perceive this?” – you are unlikely to be invited onto TV to pontificate about how we should react.

What people want is certainty; and that is what pundits offer.

That is often the equivalent of shouting loudest. But it is not always the best way to approach important issues.

Do check out Simon Kuper’s piece, and my earlier blog.

The Internet. 7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation

My friend, a top Internet expert, sips his beer.  “Look how you can chat for free, with video, to your friends around the world,” he says.  “See how quickly you can buy a book, book a flight, check in, or check something out.  The Internet has made the world fantastically better.”

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“No,” I say,  “I use the Internet for hours every day.  But it could destroy us all.  For example:

(i) the Internet polarises opinion.  Imagine a billion people in a desert, shouting.  Who can shout loudest?  The best way to attract online attention is to be shocking and extreme – sometimes called “spice”.  Slag someone off.  Be outrageous.  You know that famous, reasonable, internet commentary site?  No?  That’s because there isn’t one.  You can’t be reasonable and famous on-line;

(ii)  the Internet clouds understanding.  If an established news outlet says something wrong or daft, people care.  Private Eye or The Onion will mock them.  But in the Internet, no-one edits your racist hate-speech or loony conspiracy theories.  The Internet teems with this stuff, which tends to veer to weird extremes because that attracts readers.  Result: the barmy ramblings of religious fruitcakes and conspiracy nut-cases occupy more megabytes on the internet than (more…)

The 4 elements of the perfect article: Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers (part 2 of 3)

An experienced writer stares at a blank page, sweating.  How to get started?  If only there were a simple guide somewhere to writing articles for the Internet, newspapers or magazines!

So you want to write the perfect article? Welcome. I’ll tell you how.  Links in Bold italics are to other posts of mine on this website.

The essential starting point is to have a clear central message.  What are you trying to say?  What’s your point? Clarity on this makes everything which follows much easier.

Part 1 of this series “7 tips for writing the perfect article” illustrates how to decide on your message and ensure what you are writing is relevant.  Part 3, How to write great Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers has two worked examples based on the model set out below.

Once you are clear on what you want to say, it’s time to get started.  “The best way to start work is to start work”.  Structure is everything.

Many journalists use a simple template.  There are lots of ways of doing this; but the following, based on advice from a US journalist friend, has worked well for me in numerous feature articles during my time as a freelance journalist.  A worked example is at the end of this blog.

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Robert Pimm writing in Istanbul. For updates, follow him on Twitter: @robertpimm

Your article should consist of the following elements. I’ve set them out in the order in which they will appear (more…)

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