Top 10 Lists

Confessions of a digital marketer

I was born within the rare 3-year window known as the Oregon Trail Generation (1980-1982).

I tell you this for one reason: we are the generation that bridges the gap between old and new media.

We’re old enough to remember what the world was like before the Internet, before computers took the forefront in popular technology. We contacted people remotely via landlines attached to rotary or touchtone phones. We can sift through a library’s physical card catalogue, fluent in the Dewey Decimal System. We read the newspaper.

Yet, we’re young enough to embrace the Internet’s revolutionary technology. The World Wide Web is not a foreign entity to us. We came of age within it.

We are the Oregon Trail Generation and are tasked with bringing the old world into the new, while translating what new media means to the old school.

I was born in 1982.

This was the last year an American could grow up, complete high school and go to college entirely untainted by the seismic shift social media would bring, beginning roughly in 2004.

Post graduation, I would acquire a Facebook profile, Twitter feed, LinkedIn account, and then later Instagram, Google+ and build up my own blogs. I adopted these social media just as billions of people have since the early days of the modern world.

But I remember the old school. I remember the way a newspaper is laid out. I even wrote for the Boston Herald. And what I’m always telling baby boomers is that online media — Facebook updates, blog posts, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn’s shares and comments, the entirety of news activity online — is not that different than the way information proliferates via print media. A screen is just cheaper to print on, especially now that everyone has their own personal printing press in their iPhone or Android.

There is a lot to be gleaned from a newspaper, actually…

Top 5 newspaper principles marketers should use online

#1: Write a striking headline

Headlines should evoke an emotion to captivate interest. Though space is limitless online, people’s attention spans are not. The headline should not be too long. And just like in newspapers, don’t say in 10 words what you can say in five or less.

#2: Get to the point

Like the newspaper’s inverted pyramid story structure, the best information on any blog post should be right at the top. You’ve got your reader there by the headline, but the body is the only thing now that will keep them there. After all, they’re just one click away from the next article.

Mark Twain once wrote that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Wisely chosen words will also get you to that point quicker and optimize your SEO.

#3: Layout is important

No matter how well you write a blog post, if it’s not arranged aesthetically — if the font is “weird,” if the copy is bunched together — the text is less legible. Just like how a newspaper is carefully laid out to include stories prominently on a static page, blog copy should be broken up into digestible blocks and separated by subheads.

#4: Length is important

In the newspaper world, longer stories meant less real estate and more ink and paper. Though you won’t be wasting valuable ink, paper or page real estate on a blog, you’ll be wasting your time. The average blog post should be between 300-700 words, according to Most people won’t read much beyond that before jumping to the next page.

#5: Fit the pieces together

Components of a newspaper fit together like pieces in a puzzle. That’s a physical space, but you could say that the pieces of a blog story and its accompanying social posts and emails are linked in time. SEO is only one way we get people to read our blog posts. We can also effectively time supporting tweets, Facebook updates and email blasts that direct people to the story webpage and encourage followers to comment and share — that cascading effect that propels a “viral” story beyond your primary audience.

Social posts and emails sent at 9 a.m., EST, and 12 p.m. EST, are known to perform best. At 9 a.m. on the East Coast, people are just sitting down to their desks and don’t quite want to get into work. At noon, they’re going to lunch and, on the West Coast, it’s 9 a.m. again.

short stories

New media, old establishment

To all of those stubborn newspaper readers/writers out there, playing violins with ink-stained thumbs on the Titanic of print journalism, as it plummets desperately into the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean…

The game has changed.

And this abrupt shift is not to spite old-fashioned journalism. There’s just a better, more efficient way of doing things now.

It would be impossible, downright assinine, to go back to the old ways. That would be like rubbing two sticks together to start a fire, when you know perfectly well that an orange BiC lighter, nestled snugly in your back pocket, fully fueled, will ignite at the stroke of that serrated sparkwheel.

I can say this because I studied journalism—multimedia journalism, in fact—at just the right time, when everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) was shifting. It felt like entering willingly into a black hole. The very fabric of my being has been altered at a fundamental level and I think we’re all still scrambling to collect some semblance of order in these volatile times.

Frankly, I don’t know where I’ll end up, at what corner of the Universe this black hole will take me. That’s part of the fun and what scares the living shit out of me. But I like my vantage point within the eye of the storm. From here, I can find peace and set aside a little time to tell you old-fashioned journalists the way it is, just like your beloved Walter Cronkite used to…

A brief history of a Web journalist

When I graduated from Stonehill College, in 2004, with a bachelor’s in philosophy, I had little to no idea of my place in the professional world. I took the first job I could, in finance. Needless to say, it was not for me.

After several years, a passion for writing emerged and I made the decision to leave my job and pursue this dream full-time. I enrolled in a master’s program at Emerson College, in the journalism department. My goal was to learn how to write professionally. They did coach us well in that capacity, but I learned very early on that the industry of journalism was changing. Online news had revolutionized the way we perceived the media. And Emerson, ever the savvy institution in communications, intended to prepare us for this new world.

Instead of only focusing on writing, they had to equip us with the knowledge of this digital landscape. In place of writing news story after news story, we took a crash course in news writing and then focused on how to create news packages that incorporated multimedia. At even the initial conceptual stage of a story, we had to perceive how it would appear on a news website.

These packages could include hyperlinks, graphics, video, sound, etc. Visitors not only read online news stories; they interacted with them. We had to consider these other corresponding components, as well, throughout the newsgathering and storytelling process. I suspected my study of writing suffered, but I remained open-minded.

After two years of intensive print and multimedia journalism, I was graduated from Emerson with a master’s in just that. Upon leaving, I took in as much experience as I could. I wasn’t sure where this experience would lead me.

I managed to land a job reporting for the Boston Herald. Then a chance ad I found on Twitter earned me a position updating

Accumulating a diverse experience in all things media, old and new, I still could not focus.

The job market remained unpredictable.

When the Patriots’ 2010-11 season ended, I found myself unemployed and began applying to many jobs. I was lucky to come across an open position at Perkins School for the Blind, which needed a Web Content Writer. The requirements spoke to my experience, thus far, and I applied. Brandishing a broad base of Web writing experience to the hiring managers, I got the job.

It seemed as though I would primarily write, but when I arrived at the nation’s oldest school for visual impairment, in Watertown, Mass., the responsibilities included many other duties—running Perkins’ social media, laying out webpages in HTML code, formatting photos in PhotoShop and understanding functionality of the content management system. This job had quite the technical side, which I resisted at first. I thought of myself purely as a writer, but remained open-minded.

I developed these technical skills to complement my Web writing and, after a while, it made more sense that these were necessary for the role. Over time, I even developed a knack for creating dynamic webpages for and began focusing less on the copy. I regret this now because I believe it may have stunted my progression as a professional writer. I simply wasn’t practicing enough, as requests for e-marketing campaigns, technical troubleshooting, and initiatives from Perkins ever-expanding eLearning department abounded.

Then, suddenly, I found myself unemployed, once again.

Like a said earlier, I didn’t know where this worm hole would lead me. To what end?

About two years into the Web content writing role, the communications director made a drastic shift in organization. She dismantled the Web team, for whom I had formerly written Web content, and said I was now just a writer. That’s what she hired me for: to write! Apparently, the term “web content” that had initially modified my title of “writer,” now meant nothing.

Even though the rest of the world was moving on to the grander electronic platform, Perkins was content just rubbing two sticks together.

They didn’t need me anymore. It just didn’t make sense to me! What a waste of talent, expertise and intimate knowledge of the organization, I thought.

Then I found peace. (Perhaps centered once again in the eye of the new media storm.) I knew that truth does not always guide organizations, however big… or old, they may be.

People in the real world would evolve into new and exciting modes of interconnected perception. Yet Perkins would stay the same.

And that’s the way it is.