In My Opinion: Courtnay McLeod: For the ear, or for the eye…

NOW, I love a bit of media convergence as much as the next person. The relentless challenge to keep up with changing audiences and new technologies is pretty addictive. It’s easy to get passionate about the collision of traditional platforms, and excited by the ‘media landscape’ always being ‘new’.

But, let’s not get all dizzy about this, because somethings are staying the same. I’ve blogged about this before, suggesting that traditional ways of finding stories (or do we now say ‘content’?) can’t be lost to new technologies. Stories should be found through everyday observations and conversations – not just Google searches. #oldschool

And there’s another basic skill that’s being damaged in this race to produce ‘multimedia content’, and that’s writing.

Across all platforms, writing is vital. It is the foundation of a good story, it’s the magic that pulls an audience in and makes them think, and it’s the reason an audience returns. But pulling TV, radio and print worlds together has created two major obstacles for brilliant writing.

The first is a straightforward time issue. Multimedia content creates multiple deadlines which can limit the potential for creative writing. As the old adage goes, if you can’t think straight you won’t write straight. Creativity and clarity can’t be the ‘fall guys’ of multimedia output.

The second obstacle comes from the blurred lines that exist between platforms. Previously, print journalists wrote ‘articles’ and broadcasters wrote ‘scripts’. One was writing for the eye, the other the ear – using entirely different styles, techniques, structures and thought processes.

Now, with the ‘big bang’ of convergence, it’s easy to hear ‘articles’ being read on-air or see broadcast ‘scripts’ re-presented as text. It’s all getting a bit messy, and goes against the aspiration to engage audiences with creative content.

Organisations have kept up with the evolution by training staff to be more multimedia, but I wonder how many organisations have taught staff to write effectively for each platform, because – despite the platforms merging – the audience is still ultimately either reading or listening, or watching.

Yes, that’s right, in this wild world of convergence, with all its multimedia magic, people are still only able to absorb words through their eyes or ears, and writing styles need to reflect this.

Courtnay McLeod is director of the Scottish Media Academy and regularly teaches broadcast journalism at various universities and colleges, with special interests in media convergence issues and broadcast writing styles.