This Tuesday, I had the chance to see Fred Wilson share his wisdom as a part of a Reuters Tech Tonic series with Paul Smalera. It was my first time seeing Fred in person (and my first time in a studio*). There were several topics on offer, here are the key ones.
Bitcoin (“It’s like cash over…
Neat to read this post about going to an event that I hosted! Thanks @whynotbalu for coming and for blogging!
Mostly, social media have done wonders for writing. George Orwell in 1944 lamented the divide between wordy, stilted written English, and much livelier speech. “Spoken English is full of slang,” he wrote, “it is abbreviated wherever possible, and people of all social classes treat its grammar and syntax in a slovenly way.” His ideal was writing that sounded like speech. We’re getting there at last.
I don’t know how much of this can be attributed to social media, as opposed to simply to online writing. But there’s no doubt that online writing in general is more conversational and approachable than the relatively stilted written English that most of us grew up with.
For instance, on Friday, both Luke Baker and I wrote about Sino-Cypriot relations for Reuters. My blog post was conversational: “Russia is taking an absolutist stance with respect to Cyprus. No, we won’t restructure the money you owe us. No, we won’t buy a bank off you. No, we aren’t interested in your natural-gas reserves.” Luke’s wire report wasn’t: “The net result is a divided island - Turkey has occupied the northern third since 1974 - sitting in the south-eastern Mediterranean, where 800,000 people face the prospect of an economic implosion that could leave them destitute.”
This is one of the issues facing the Reuters Digital team as we build a great web property. The kind of writing which wire journalism was built on, and which can be quite effective even in newspapers, is increasingly likely to feel stilted and artificial when it’s presented in a more naturally conversational medium. There’s a reason why a wire reporter will tend to squeeze lots of extraneous facts — about the Turkish occupation, or the population of Cyprus, or even where the island is located in the Mediterranean — into a sentence about economic implosion. But nobody does that when they’re talking. Nor do they generally expect it when they’re surfing the web.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
First, I’m going to tell you the best advice I’ve ever given: a friend of mine was sad that he didn’t have a girlfriend, so I told him, “You know how when you first walk into your house, the first thing you see is that bookcase by the door?” And he said, “uh huh.” And I said, “And how, on that bookcase you have your boxed set of all the old Star Trek movies on VHS?” And he said, “yeah.” And I said, “And how, since you have them lined up in chronological order, the art on the spines of the tapes comes together to form a picture of the USS Enterprise?” And he said, “right.” “Mix up those tapes.” He was married a year later.
I like Farhad Manjoo’s writing. Even when I disagree with him, he cuts to the heart of an issue and efficiently dissects it. But part of the reason I read so much Manjoo — especially his thinkier, pop-tech pieces at Slate — is because the headlines on his pieces are often appealingly weird, even freaky. They’re fun without being click-baity.
Having written regularly for Slate’s former business publication, The Big Money, I know Slate headlines are what they are because the editors in the office obsess over them. Meaning, this gentle poking comes from a place of respect and admiration! (H/t Megan McCarthy who suggested taking Manjoo’s headlines and arranging them into verse.)