writingWhen I was doing my post-grad certificate in magazine journalism at Ryerson University, I remember slaving over the first assignment for our writing class. Everyone was eager to hand in something really good to our teacher, Wendy Dennis, a contributing editor at Toronto Life at the time. Imagine our horror when Wendy tossed back our assignments, saying: “Well, these are pretty good. For first drafts.” First drafts! To us, they were works of art. To her, they were the beginnings of articles that might turn out OK after a lot more hard work.

At least we tried.

Immersed in a world of first drafts
Today, I often feel that I’m immersed in a world of first drafts – poorly crafted news releases, articles with no point, rambling podcasts that sound like they’ve been recorded in a tin can, and poorly lighted videos that give us two minutes of content in a dull 10-minute package. To me, these are all first drafts. Those that suffer from poor planning and shoddy technique probably can’t be fixed. But there’s hope for the communication pieces that only require editing – whether they’re text, audio or video. But the creators of these things have to care – just as we students yearned to excel at our craft.

Do you care?
To me, posting unedited text, audio or video online is akin to saying to your audience: “I don’t really care. Here is my first draft. Figure it out for yourself.”

The idea for this blog post has been simmering on the back burner for weeks. Today I finally made time for it, after reading a post by Steve Lubetkin, a communicator and podcaster in New Jersey. In an impassioned post, Steve laments the current trend toward throwing unedited content online.

Steve points to an example in which someone expects you click on their conference video, and then bypass nearly 10 minutes of footage showing nothing but two empty chairs before you see the interviews. According to Steve, the “marketing person” responsible for the video defended her position by saying that they were filming “feet-on-the-street.” Well, here’s a news flash: You can edit that footage before putting it online.

Editing shows you care about your audience
When I work with clients at their conferences, we will record many more minutes than we can use. Weaving through the crowd with my portable digital recorder and mic, I’ll capture lots of content. During sit-down interviews, we will sometimes veer off topic. But all of this content will be edited so that the client’s audience hears five or seven seamless minutes that convey the desired message while still imparting the energetic buzz of the conference floor.

This editing process is even more important with video. When someone has the gall to point me towards a video that shows empty chairs, attendees’ shoes or the ceiling, I’m gone. Click. My time is valuable, and I’m not going to spend it trying to figure out your first draft.

Professional doesn’t equal slick
Some communicators today like to go for an authentic, non-commercial feel. That’s fine. I believe that you can be both authentic and professional.

So, yes, there is a time and a place for raw footage, if it tells a story and doesn’t appear to be a lazy attempt to just “put something online.”

And what about employees?
One last point. I’ve heard people say that they don’t have to worry about quality for internal communication because it’s “only for the employees.” Only? Only for the people who are the front line between the corporate entity and the customers? Only for the people who are working to sell your products and services every day? Yikes. Please: If you are producing content for employee consumption, make it great. Plan ahead, create excellent content, and then edit, edit, edit until it’s the best it can be.

Of course you, my fine readers, don’t inflict your first drafts on others. But are you seeing too many of these specimens? Please comment.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Donna, you’re so right. I’ve seen the equivalent of those 10 minutes of empty chairs, and didn’t know whether to think it was insulting, or just thoughtless. Either one reflects badly on the person/company putting that awful first draft out there.

  2. Well said. So many people advise bloggers to post every day and ignore the desire to be perfect. Rough is good enough, they insist. No, it’s not, whether you’re talking rough draft or rough cut. If you want to stand out from all the great content and media and other ruckus, your work does not have to be perfect but it must be pretty damn good.

  3. In the olden days, when blogs were new, people told me they were just published journals. Even then I thought that there wouldn’t be many people’s journals I would want to read, unless they could write as well as Virginia Woolf or Anais Nin. Now I have a blog myself, adding to the overwhelming volume out there, but it is NOTATALL like writing in my journal. A professional blog needs to be crafted in order to have the desired effect. That takes (me at least) ALOTOF time. I can easily spend the whole morning on one blog post, what with writing, revising, formatting, adding links, checking that all the links work…
    And my strongest memory of my writing teacher at Ryerson’s mag program was Carroll Allen pointing out that writing a big feature article for a magazine could take one month, and the most that mags were paying for big features was $1,000, and you might not get a big assignment each month, so if you weren’t keen on working hard for $12,000 a year… She had done the math, which is probably why she took the Ryerson teaching job. Rates haven’t risen much since those days in the early ’80s, either!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here