What digital can still learn from print

By Jon Bernstein

Writing for the web is exactly the same as writing for print - and it’s also completely different. The trick is working out which parts remain the same and which parts must change. 

It's a theme that I explore in some detail during my Writing for the Web workshops

There’s another truth that underscores this point. Namely, that print and digital will continue to co-exist for a long time to come - and that the practitioners from one medium can learn a great deal from practitioners from the other.

Given print outdates digital by some 550 years, at least, I suggest digital has more to learn from print than the other way around. Lessons such as these:

1. Finite space is a virtue. Make the most of it

Limited space imposes a discipline on writers and inspires creativity among sub-editors. Impose some (virtual) word count limits to avoid flabby copy and to create compelling headlines. Brevity takes time but your readers will be grateful for the effort. 

2. Size matters

Nothing quite beats a newspaper front page when there is a big story to tell. The promotional detritus is removed; the typeface is turned up to the max and a large hero image dominates the space. Consider exhibit A. And exhibit B. The BBC, among other outlets, has tried to master this approach online with a news homepage takeover (although this seems to have disappeared in a world of mobile-first responsive design). Meanwhile, others such as Medium have super-sized their sells demonstrating the power of the image in the process. None, however, has truly replicated the power of print.

3. The bundle remains attractive

To quote Jerry Seinfeld: “It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.” Far from seeming outmoded or quaint, the notion that all the information you need might be in one place is an attractive one in an era of information overload. Sarah Marshall, for one, has written convincingly about the allure of the finishable news experience. It doesn’t have to be just a news experience, of course – there is a strong desire for completion anywhere the data deluge threatens to overwhelm.

Find out more about the workshop: Writing for the web: the insider’s guide for content marketers.

Jon Bernstein is an independent digital media consultant and writer, formerly deputy editor, then digital director of New Statesman and multimedia editor at Channel 4 News. He tweets @jon_bernstein.

(Picture credit: Andreas / Flickr. Used under creative commons licence)