Journalism #fail #CNN: Quoting a Person by Attributing to Them What You Think They Meant to Say!

Institutionalized Media Manipulation

Do You Trust Social Media “Editors?”

Why and How the “News” Became Broken – Part 1

As part of my job, I occasionally pitch “real news” editors and publishers with story ideas.

Sometimes, I get back responses like this one: “. . we prefer writers with professional journalism experience. We don’t tend to work with corporate publishing contractors out of a concern that their corporate work will conflict with the role of freelance news contributor.”*

To be clear, I am a marketing writer that’s also a journalist. I make my living by putting interesting and persuasive things in front of readers.

What’s fascinating is how there’s this false rift between “legit” reporters and writers, and those who dabble in both commercial and public interests (as if the two were somehow separable).

Today, I’m here to tell you that the rift is complete and total horse-shit. You know it if you’re in the business, but you may not care much about it if you’re not.

I’m here to emphasize that you should care – even if you’re not in the business.

Whores with Pens

All journalists are whores, whether they acknowledge it or not. In fact, all journalists are marketers, even if they don’t know it. They’re constantly being used by the subtle industry powers, and they’re even more susceptible to corruption in this world of Buzzfeed, TMZ, Huffington Post, Vox, Vice, The Verge, Drudge and Facebook journalism. (I realize that Drudge and Facebook are just a channels, but their feeds are crammed with fake news, of the kind the previously mentioned outlets produce.)

This post aims to shed some light on the wordsmith industry and how the reading public is at a distinct disadvantage in these days of click-analysis, headline bait and the shoddy article sciences. Later, we’ll break it down even further with subsequent break-outs/break-downs.

Ye Olde Newspaper

The beginning of whore-dom began with newspapers, almanacs or journals.

A lot of people get crazy these days about whether or not a particular newspaper or news channel is objective. Interestingly, this was never the case. Traditionally, newspapers aligned along party lines, for example. Early on papers were even named after the party they aligned with. Some names from the past include the Arkansas Democrat and Marion, Illinois’ The Daily Republican. Towns would often have two different papers to satisfy the different political viewpoints. Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, for example, countered the more left-leaning San Francisco Chronicle. Eventually many papers would ditch the dem/repub alignment in their titles in favor of less subjective names like Gazette, Recorder and Ledger.

Commercially funded newspapers like Hearst’s national papers took specific viewpoints that favored the interests of the publishers. This is much more disguised today, but it persists.

The papers have never been very shy about their promotional proclivities, either. They were packaged as promotion vehicles, with the local sports teams advertised in the Sports section, the local arts, restaurants and entertainment in that section, local business press releases rewritten in the Business section and the political parties in the front pages along side the actual hard news reporting (who was killed, what burned down, etc.).

The New News Thing

Today, people typically find news via social media feeds and news aggregators, like Google News, Yahoo! News or Feedly. Those latter three are more typical of “news junkies.” Recent studies show that most casual news consumers get curated news feeds in their social media feeds on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and elsewhere (And when I say news, I’m including all the junk promotion, native advertising and outright corporate propaganda that show up on media outlets – more on native advertising below). A lot of people also use link aggregators and publishers like The Drudge Report and The Huffington Post to get news that aligns with their particular conservative/progressive orientation.

This is a problem, because news producers no longer control their editorial feeds. Think of an editorial feed as the newspaper itself. A publisher like the L.A. Times has control over the stories they choose to feature (even the ones they don’t produce like stories from AP).

As a result, common media consumers have less and less concern about where their news comes from and how it was produced. They gravitate toward sparkly headlines that are exhaustively tested by the news organizations and form opinions that don’t adhere to a particular editorial agenda. Traditional agendas were historically guided by several large news organizations in broadcast and print. They had semi-monopolies that tended to promote a two-party ideological orientation: L.A. Times vs. O.C. Register; Washinton Post vs. Washington Times; New York Times vs. Wall Street Journal; CNN vs. Fox News.

A new group of “editors” now controls the mass exposure of news, promotions and ideas. One prime example that’s come under fire lately is Facebook. They claim to have algorithms that promote stories in the news area to the right of the wall, but it’s clear that human editorial control and even censorship of story lines is at play. And, like the papers of old, a platform like Facebook now needs to be considered an ideological proponent, much like the Hearst organization of years past.

Cookies and User News Behavior

Something else to consider with the Facebook scenario is behavior tracking. As you may already know, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and many other web properties (including advertisers) track your online behaviors and submit products, news, services and other preferences to you as you surf the web.

With respect to news, this is important. The Facebook news feed on the right hand side of the page, for example, displays news stories that you’re more likely to read. It learns from your Facebook conversations and click behaviors, then presents you with custom news based on its own profile analysis and algorithms. This is also used for the sponsored posts that show up in your feeds.

We’ll cover more about the history and evolution of the news business in Part 2 of this series.

*[For the record: I’m a professional journalist with an M.A. in print journalism from the University of Southern California and 21 years of reporting and publishing experience. I’m also the author of McGraw-Hill’s best-selling eBay marketing book.]

Media Rebel: How to Stay Sane in an Insanely Ad-Driven Media World



Today’s modern media landscape is shaping and confusing the minds of young people at warp speed. They may not realize it. Even adults trained in critical thinking and academic analysis get confused with the incessant noise and suspect claims that flow freely across the multi-channel, multi-device media world.

One of the big problems is that advertising and persuasion mechanisms are baked right into the product, and it’s now easier than ever to insert it, track it, retarget consumers and generally dupe people into misinformed positions in order to cultivate:

  • Buying decisions
  • Political decisions
  • Medical decisions
  • Financial decisions
  • Lifestyle choices
  • And other related drivers of everyday living and long-term planning

None of this is particularly new. It’s just that the science of scamming, duping, cajoling and nudging is getting dangerously competent. Unfortunately, advertisers have taken wisdom from books like Robert Cialdini’s Persuasion (FEAR: “People are more motivated by what they stand to lose than by what they stand to gain.”)and turned it loose within the worlds of print journalism, TV, radio, podcasting and elsewhere. The upcoming generation of consumers is facing some of the smartest, most irresistible messaging techniques in history. The snake oil salesman is not as easily identifiable as he once was.

Savvy companies now view the media as hired storytellers to be manipulated on their behalf (many have always held this view). Donald Trump is the current master of the trade.

Today, bogus outfits like Buzzfeed and Vice rule content production, while technology behemoths like Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook control advertising delivery methods. In years past, centralized juggernauts like the CBS Evening News, The Wall Street Journal, various magazine and radio conglomerates, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, NPR and Pravda managed to guide public discourse (and the associated commercial interests) with relative ease. There was supposed to be an impenetrable wall between advertising and editorial, but those formats, by their very nature, were PR channels, as well. Large businesses, like professional sports teams, amphitheaters, movie studios, Fortune 500 companies, and similar concerns enjoyed steady coverage in exchange for pay-to-play advertising expenditures. Politicians used these old platforms to great effect, as well (and great expense).

In decades past, the editor influenced and controlled your “feed.” Now you and your friends do to some extent. The platforms that control information presentation algorithms have a significant amount of control, as well (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple). We may soon see a day when actual headlines are customized based on your public profiles, fears, wants and individual quirks.

In order to navigate these new mine fields with some sanity, the best thing a student (young or old) can do is to get smart about how they’re being manipulated and pitched.

Highlights from our course outline and upcoming textbook follow.

Media Rebel Course Goals

How do we want the students to leave the course?

  • Ability to analyze and combat advertising strategies and be intentional about our consumer choices
  • Possess critical thinking skills that allow them to examine the motivations, economics and powers behind 1) Entertainment, 2) News and 3) Advertising media. (in order of emotional impact)
  • Ability to lucidly debate and explain the modern media landscape
  • Make better life decisions based on a clearer view of how the media world works

What are we rebelling against?

  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Persuasion
  • Government
  • Deception
  • Lies
  • Sleight of hand
  • Submission

Part 1 – Historical Perspective and Analysis

  • Recent media history – transitional times
  • Print => web
  • Radio => podcast
  • TV => YouTube/Netflix
  • Broadcast dominance => self-selection/YouTube
  • Basics: What’s the difference between “hard news,” “opinion,” and “analysis?”

Part 2 – Online and Offline Persuasion

  • Advertising and persuasion traditions
  • How they work in the modern web
  • Tracking cookies and personalization
  • Pop-ups, banner ads and interruption marketing
  • “Newsjacking” (David Meerman Scott); Celebrity-jacking (Charlie Houpert)

Part 3 – Baked-In Advertising

  • Native ads and why millenials think they’re impervious to advertising
  • Broken state of magazines and print
  • Web destinations (WSJ, Huffpo, Drudge, Google News) vs. social discovery (head forever buried in social media feed, no intentional news seeking)
  • Dynamic ad insertion: Outbrain, “brand stories,” and the new advertorial
  • Buzzfeed and Vice click-bait articles

Part 4 – Advertising and the Political Cycle

  • The illusion of a close race
    • The concealed landslide
    • Look at Florida Bush/Gore – actual close race
    • Who pays the advertising costs?
    • Corporate donors
    • Individual donors
    • Presidential campaign contributions on tax returns
    • Taxpayers
    • PACs
    • Looking at an IRS Form 990
  • What do donors get in return?
    • Political influence
    • Actual assets and resources
    • Favorable contracts and consideration
    • Political positions, power and appointments
    • How do the news media profit?
    • Directly with ad revenue
    • Influence and access to people, stories and “content”
    • Event coverage for productions, debates, conventions and election night coverage
  • Revenue differences
    • Tight races vs. blowouts
      • Is it more important to have an engaged or un-engaged electorate?
      • How is electoral balance maintained?
  • Dems vs. Repubs
  • 3rd party discouragement
  • How lobbying works
  • NGOs and Government agencies
  • Solving global or worldwide “problems” – NGOs, Soros, Gates, Buffet

Part 5 – Major, Mainstream Advertising

Why does the news industry exist?

What state is the audience in?

  • Hungry
  • Stressed                                               Body
  • Tired
  • Worried about health


  • Worried about personal safety
  • Worried about privacy, hackers, personal secrets
  • Worried about safety of public/nation/community                               Mind
  • Worried about the children, grandchildren, foreign hungry children
  • Worried about what they can do, how they can vote, weapons they can use.


  • Dejected
  • Hopeless                                                                                 Spirit
  • Searching
  • Scared

What time does news show? Before dinner to drive conversations. (featured in airports, restaurants, bars). Now 24×7 since CNN.

What’s being sold? FUD-A

  • Fear – personal safety in peril
    • Murders
    • Foreign governments/terrorists
    • Disease
    • Drugs
    • Others/hungry, starving children
    • Diet, medical problems
  • Uncertainty/Doubt
    • Health – caffeine vs. decaf, carb vs. low carb, meat vs. no meat, etc.
    • Financial markets boom and bust
    • Economy and jobs
    • Computer virus/cyber/security
    • Weather, warming, cooling, storms, chance
  • Aspiration
    • Personal appearance
    • Celebrity worship
    • Better mind, body, spirit, location, job, etc.

False Solutions

  • Politicians
  • Police
  • Policy/rules
  • Initiatives/votes/elections/laws/petitions
  • Products – face creams, operations, pills, electronics, security systems, etc.

What are the networks (ABC, FOX, CNN, NBC, CBS, NPR), and what are the differences?

  • Corporate affiliations (ABC/Disney/ESPN; Murdoch; etc.)
  • Political affiliations
  • Advertiser influence
  • Public funding influence
  • Norman Lear Foundation and similar (for comedy and drama programming w/ issues baked in)

Alternative Networks (Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, The Intercept, Russia Times RT)

Who advertises? (solutions)

  • Military
  • Politicians
  • Orgs/503c/non-profit
  • Media/entertainment
  • Alarms/security
  • Pharma
  • Manufacturing
  • Causes
  • Food/market
  • Restaurants
  • Diet

Part 6 – Opportunities & Dangers

  • How the music industry used to work and how it works now. (Interview Jason Fine – Rolling Stone)
    • How does the music business now make money for artists?
    • What is a hit musician’s budget like, and how do they allocate their time, $ and efforts?
    • Can you explain what it’s like to deal with agents, managers and the machine behind the artist?
    • Is it true that the biz no longer picks winners and losers? Can an artist really make it with a Twitter account and chops? Or is that a complete fabrication?
    • Should pop music always be bad, and what purpose does that serve?
    • What’s being sold by songs?
    • Are there political artists that are now having an impact on the times?
    • Do magazines like the Rolling Stone struggle with waning influence and the fragmented media landscape? What’s the strategy behind staying relevant?
  • Eating, drinking, smoking and fraud in the consumer food industry (interview Jim Thrasher – Univ. South Carolina)
    • Food
    • Tobacco
    • Vape/Electronic
    • Marijuana
  • The senses vs. the modern world – packaging and words tell you everything before you perceive. Stories told on packages of food and other consumer items. Choice as activism. Consumers as brand ambassadors. Politics. Pre-Suasion book by Robert Cialdini

Course Reader & Recommended Texts

•    Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman

•    Sports in America, Michener

•    Confessions of an Economic Hitman, Perkins

•    Incluence, Cialdini

•    Pre-Suasion, Cialdini

•    Truth in Digital Advertising –

•    Advertising Fraud –


How Did You Become a Product?

The Great Network News Conspiracy and Why Facebook is Now the News Leader

If you:

  • Read an article
  • Like a Facebook post
  • Watch a TV show
  • Watch YouTube
  • Search the web for products and services
  • Scroll through Instagram
  • Sift through snail mail ads
  • Glance at billboards
  • Check in at Starbucks
  • Talk to Alexa (Amazon Echo)

. . . you are what’s called a target audience. Companies try to identify specific types of audiences via advertising and media so they can sell specific stuff to them.

So, traditional media outlets like TV networks, social media sites and news publications collaborate with companies that advertise in order to make this happen.

Not exactly rocket science, ay?

If you take the reasoning a step further, one could say that YOU are the “product” that’s sold to the companies that are so obsessed with these “targets.”

The media sells you to their advertisers. The more they know about you, the better. Once they mesh a targeted ad with a targeted audience, the advertisers have a much more realistic chance of closing a sale.

You are quite the valuable commodity.

John C. Dvorak of The No Agenda show illustrates this beautifully. “ . . you see very specific audiences developed as products,” said Dvorak. “The network nightly news is a perfect example of this. They have all developed an older audience to which the drug companies can sell drugs. Ideally, they, the audience, are old and sickly.”

“Naïve critics complain that the TV network news is no good because only old people watch it,” continued Dvorak. “They go on to say it is dying because they cannot attract younger viewers. This is not true. These critics are know-nothings who should be ignored because they do not understand what is going on. Adding younger viewers to network news would cheapen the value of the audience to the real customers – the advertising drug companies.”

BINGO! So, another question might be: What kind of programming ensures that this “sick” audience stays intact and reliable?

Apparently, this decades-long experiment has deduced that a mix of fear-mongering, tragedy, health information confusion, weather issue confusion, celebrity worship and take-downs, political outrage, and financial confusion works best.

It is in both the advertisers’ and the networks’ best interests to keep this audience unhealthy and infirm. Their solutions come as 30-second “spots” between all the drama and unrest.

This is a very unique audience. Just ask the ad execs:

“One could argue that, given the long-held perceptions” about evening newscasts, “we haven’t gotten the full value that I think we perhaps should have for ‘Nightly News,’” John Kelly, senior VP of ad sales for NBC News, told AdAge, conceding that drug makers and “personal care” products make up two-thirds of Nightly‘s advertising roster.

Ad execs like Kelly even argue that this particular audience is even more unique, because they pay attention better than other audiences.

Pretty cool, huh?

There are more layers. If you extend these thoughts, it’s pretty clear why Facebook would be a center of gravity for all this. Facebook is the corner store, the gossip headquarters for fake news, real news, salacious news, outrageous news and everything in between. The whole village is there, undressed, embarrassed, bragging, smirking, trolling and joking.

People pull their friends into news stories via Facebook – whether by outrage (Trump sucks!), empathy (Raise money for _fill in the blank_ cause.), sports bragging/baiting (Tom Brady is a douche!) or health scares (coffee, Zika, opioids!). And, according to Pew Research, 62% of people get news via social media (mostly Facebook, Twitter and Reddit – I would think that LinkedIn drives a lot of business news, as well).

So that’s the town square, and Mark Zuckerberg and company control the feed with “algorithms” that are supposed to be helping you out by showing you what’s best for you according to what you like, click on, view for more than 30 seconds and so forth. They’re the data machine that’s constantly taking your temperature in order to serve up more crappy news stories and “relevant ads.”

Just remember – you are the product in systems that support and promote paid advertising. The more you take this to heart, the better you can “reclaim your time,” avoid feeling poorly because of whipped up “news,” and get on with your life.

There are a lot of great topics to dive into here. We’ll circle back for deeper dives soon. Stay tuned! And, comment below to add your 2c.


How To Get Your Cold Emails Read Without Getting Shamed

In 1995, email was a novelty. Whenever I got an e-mail it was a big deal. Whenever anyone I was reaching out to got an email, it was a big deal.

It was cool it.

It was new.

60% of the time it worked every time.

Way back when, and certainly prior to then, if you wanted to connect with someone in business, you picked up the phone and called them directly. In many cases they had gatekeepers or secretaries or admin assistants that would screen your calls so you couldn’t get through to them. It was a pain in the heinie (did he just say heinie in a business blog post?).

Email, however was a way into the fortress that very few people were using – especially as a cold pitching technique.

Yo, Back in the Day

Back in the day, I could email 100 companies directly, gathering emails from actual web pages that listed titles and contact information. I’d get 10 responses, or even 20 sometimes, from people that were open to my pitch and ready to purchase my services (copywriting).

That all went away very quickly because people started getting inundated with emails. Then came spam filters and the Gmail spam button. Remember SpamAssassin and Razor?

Aside: Please don’t go nuts about sales spam here. I’m talking about targeting business people that depend on vendors and solutions to help them do a better job. This isn’t about Nairobi financial scheme emails. Think about it. You’re not going to increase sales if you don’t try to get new people (who you have a reasonable suspicion can benefit from your product/solution/service) to listen to your cold pitch. Put in other terms: You’ll never get a date if you don’t approach girls you don’t know.

The evolution of social media allowed us to target specific types of people (even by their job title and company) and customize pitches. But the digital inbox gatekeepers got better and better, reducing the chances that we’d get through.

Poorly written emails or boring emails were the casualties.

How to Get Noticed Without Getting Shamed?

Ok, so how do you deal with this inbox craziness? First you need to find email addresses that are actually reachable. How to do this is another blog post. Let’s say, however, you have a mechanism for finding people’s email addresses. I don’t need to tell you that targeting is key. Find the right companies for your goals, the right titles of people, and the right people.

Once you have the right email addresses, you have an opportunity to pitch and make an impression.

You must break through the inbox noise and capture people’s attention much in the same way advertisers capture the attention of TV viewers that have no interest in seeing their ads (great model, huh?). Seriously though, we’ve all been conditioned by ads to buy things like beer, insurance and Sham-WOW.

“This Is Professional Show Business”

One way to learn this skill is to pay attention to comedians. (In any given year, 53 to 81% of the super bowl ads are humorous).

The key is to study mechanisms that work. I like to revisit old goofballs like Steve Martin and his “reversals” on songs like “Grandmother’s Song.”

“Be courteous, kind and forgiving. . .”

“Be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant.”

“Be gentle and peaceful each day, and have a good thing to say. ..”

“Be pompous, obese and eat cactus..”

Be dull and boring and omnipresent..”

“Criticize things you don’t know about. Be oblong and have your knees removed.”

“Put a live chicken in your underwear. Go into a closet and suck eggs.”

I could go on.

This is classic PURPLE COW if you need a Seth Godin reference.

The point is – you can DO THIS in your emails. Of course, you can’t be as off-the-wall as Martin, but you can try to get close. It has to fit your personality. But you can be funny. You’re allowed to, just like you are at trade shows and in the office. Being in an inbox doesn’t mean you have to act like you’re wearing a three-piece suit!

So, you need a hook. A way to capture attention. Be careful, though. Humor can easily cross into shock, disgust, potty talk, and other socially unacceptable blunders. Interestingly, the same kinds of trouble humor gets you into . . humor can get you out of.

Humor can cover over shock, disgust and many other things by being itself. Humor is the babysitter that lets you get away with murder while the parents are gone. You can cover your tracks and be excused for all kinds of things. Humor lets you say and do stuff that’s not otherwise socially accepted – everything from the innocuous and subtle to the politically poisonous and downright horrific.

But for Business Communications?

Subtlety is best for communications with business people that you’ve never met. Here’s one of my openers from a cold email: “Your name came up when I ran a Salesforce script against a LinkedIn Sales Navigator search. . . then filtered by most captivating head shot.”

Here’s how I dissect it in terms of audience and approach: 1) The targets for this email are marketing directors and the like who know all about Salesforce and LinkedIn Navigator. 2) They’re also usually technology companies. 3) The gag is a vanity hook, but the fear that drives it is this notion that we’re all trackable and traceable. Everyone’s discoverable and “data mineable.” And, that’s a little unsettling. The vanity provides a little humorous relief.

The following is a little chart I crafted to show you the difference between formal stodginess and humorous accessibility:  Enjoy it, and please let me know your thoughts below.

Why and When Written Content Marketing Works Better than Video

Content developers and marketing agencies need to figure out when the appropriate times are for creating videos or creating written content.

This quick run-down shows you the benefits of each and when to use video versus when to use written content like case studies, white papers brochures, data sheets, solution briefs and so forth. (We’ve also produced a handy chart down below.)

Visual “How Tos”

Videos are great for “how to” content that shows people exactly how to do a particular thing like create a recipe or solve some kind of iPhone issue or mobile app issue or some problem with software. You can use demonstrations with screenshots and actual software screens to show people exactly how to create something from scratch, troubleshoot an issue or master a skill.


Videos are also great for capturing the interest of the viewer with personality, humor and visual content. Any subject like food, art, slapstick gags, beautiful scenery or colorful animations make sense for video. Moods and visual impressions are much easier to capture on video than in print.


Interruptions and distractions work better with video, as well. Think about your social media feeds. Striking images and videos pull you out of your work and into Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. There’s something irresistible about compelling video.

Writing and Deeper Dives

Written pieces are much more valuable when you’re further along in a sales cycle. This is especially true in businesses where sale cycles are long and a lot of thinking has to go into exploring a solution before a client or a prospect makes a decision about a purchase.

When you need to explain benefits, features and advantages in detail, it’s much better to do that in a written document that can be saved, copied, shared and referenced by the prospect or customer.

If you think about it, written content is useful in much the same way a contract is or an educational text is. When you read, you remember more of the written content. The way we’ve been conditioned as students academically lends itself to much more detail and memory recall when something is read.

Video tends to be more leisurely. It’s low impact and can be discarded easily in terms of memory. If you read an in-depth document, however, you’ve focused for a long period of time, and you get the feeling like you’ve done work or accomplished something. Think about when you read a book when you were a kid. We were always rewarded for for reading thick books, comprehending complex plots, identifying with characters, and memorizing facts.

This type of learning and processing will always be more valued than watching TV. As kids, we were all discouraged from watching TV (or YouTube) and encouraged to read, even if even if it was a stupid, mindless book. TV was forbidden fruit, and it was considered vacuous bubblegum, not nearly as important as a book or a reading assignment for school like current events from a magazine or a newspaper.

Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words and video can capture attention very quickly, but sometimes the recall of a video is fleeting and not as indelible as a written document that goes into great detail about a certain subject.

Complexity and Exposition

Written content is also preferred when developing complex philosophies or explaining sophisticated topics. If the audience needs to study or closely examine difficult concepts, written articles and brochures are much more appropriate. C-Level prospects, for example, need to base their decisions on substantial documentation when making B2B purchases.

When people read something in print, they hear the words and see them. (This is one reason why it’s advisable to “subtitle” explanatory videos on Facebook and YouTube.) Pure video, however, is a bit different. It’s more topical and superficial by the nature of the medium. Most people, for example, won’t spend a lot of time with a video. Thirty second and one-minute videos are common because they can capture attention quickly. They rarely, however, sustain attention over long periods of time. The exceptions are things like Ted Talks and feature-length movies that cost millions of dollars to produce.

One thing that’s advisable is backing up a superficial video treatment of a subject with a longer form document that explains things in more detail. The two mediums can work in tandem to achieve more meaningful results.


Finally, video and copy work great as a single project when you’re interviewing a subject matter expert (SME). If you’ve heard of the Oracle Pillar approach, you’re probably familiar with this. If you start with a long form interview, you can generate up to 269 different pieces of audio, video and written content from that single sit-down interview. A 20-minute interview video, for example, can be broken up into short format videos, made into a podcast, transcribed as a transcript, modified into a PowerPoint, and re-written into multiple blog posts. All this content can live on every conceivable social media channel, including SlideShare, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest.  

14 Writing Tips from the Mind Behind Dilbert (Bonus: 6 humor hacks)

How does the man famous for Dilbert write so expertly? Bet you didn’t know he was a writer. His latest book is a great read for anyone in any profession: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

Here are his tips from a video he recently published.

Focus on the right topic – one that somebody cares about. If you can make yourself or someone laugh, groan or get excited about a particular topic, you’re onto something. A physical change in the body will show that it’s worth writing and will help others. You also want to pick a familiar topic to write about, while avoiding strange topics. Audiences can’t change their outlook or orientation much during the short time they’re reading your work. Keep it familiar to them. Don’t write for yourself. Write for the audience. Adams also recommends using the “invisible friend” practice. Bounce your ideas and topics off of that imaginary friend. It could be a real person you know.

Evoke curiosity in the first sentence – This is your chance to make a first impression. Be provocative. Make them think, “Where is he going to go with this?”

Pace and lead the reader – Hypnosis instructs us to match the audience and be like them in important ways. Speak the way they speak. Talk about the things they care about. Show a type of emotion that connects with them. Act, dress, think like them. . . in words. Once they’ve identified with you, you can then lead. When you offer up a different or controversial idea, for example, they’re much more likely to follow. Tell them, “I know you’re thinking this now. .“ and show them the answer.

Write in direct sentences – Here’s the format: Subject does something. Example: “The boy hit the ball.” As opposed to, “The ball was hit by the boy.” It’s the same meaning, but your brain processes the first sentence faster, more economically. You don’t put a burden on the reader – especially over a long piece of copy. The same goes for passive voice.

Eliminate jargon, buzz words, adjectives, adverbs and cliches – This is especially important for nonfiction and business writing. Try this: Imagine that someone offers you $100 for any word you can take out of your writing, and the meaning stays the same. Example: “Tomorrow is going to be very hot.” “Tomorrow is going to be hot.” The reader can’t tell the difference when you eliminate the word very. They’ll remember the information at a later time. Simplicity.

Brevity = Brilliance – We’re wired in a way that we think brevity is equated with intelligence. Stanford University did a famous study on this. I wrote a post about it featuring the style of Earnest Hemingway. “When you simplify, you not only communicate better, you make your readers think you’re *smarter*.” Some people make the mistake of throwing in big words and jargon to show how smart they are. They will not register as being entirely smart. They may look knowledgeable, but they will look dumb in the way they presented information in a complicated way.

Make sentences musical – Make America Great Again vs. Stronger Together. Not the same musicality. The second one falls kind of flat and has a double “er.”

Avoid ugly words – like moist and talc. Choose the good word over the ugly word. There are lots of words in our vocabulary, and you can choose alternatives. Here are a few more ugly words: chafe, decrepit, disgust, leech, maladroit, unctuous. They are kinda fun, however, in their imagery/feeling.

Don’t make wrong associations – Here’s Adams’ example: “Two thingsI really like are babies and automatic weapons.” Even though they’re unrelated in the list, the reader gets an association that is difficult to stomach.

Use visual language – Google the McGurk effect. You’ll find a YouTube videw where a guy says, “bah, bah, bah.” They change the video to change his lips making a fah, fah, fah sound. Then they put the bah, bah sound over it. When you see the lips form that sound, you hear the fah sound. It’s freaky. That’s how visual persuasion works. Using visuals is also important to the imagery you use in writing. Donald Trump says – I’m going to build a wall vs. I’m going to increase security on our borders. That’s visual. Isis is chopping off heads, they’re drowning people, etc. They’re not just described as some academic threat. Gerry Spence’s book about convincing juries by putting them in the scene is the recommended read on this topic. You want your readers to perceive sights, smells, tastes and touch. But just go visual if you’re in a hurry.

Violate a norm – Make the reader a little uncomfortable in your writing. Presenting some element of danger works. You don’t want to endanger the reader, but by communicating a danger, you involve them in the story. Topics that elicit responses like, “This group is going to be mad at this author” make people engage with the content more. And they help you form a stronger bond with your audiences that agree with the violation.

End on a clever or provocative thought – A call back is one way to do this. You can refer back to it in your closing statement. Or be provocative about something that’s coming because of your earlier argument.

Write every day – It’s difficult to restart writing after you’ve abandoned it for days or weeks. You need to stay in writing shape by writing every day. Writing a blog is one way to practice. Blog for readers, but blog for yourself as practice.

Humor formula – Use at least two of the following 6 dimensions of humor (Trademark Scott Adams). Three or more are better. You need to use at least two to make a joke. There is a formula for humor – it works every time. Some people think it’s just surprise or a left turn. But no, use these:

  • Clever – Combine things that people didn’t think you’d combine. France was expecting to elect a Trump-like candidate (Le Pen), but instead they elected a rich white guy with business experience and not much government experience. Nice combo.
  • Naughty – Fit in naughty with a clever component. It’s very powerful.
  • Bizarre – Two things out of place are funny. Gary Larsen did this with talking animals in The Far Side. That’s bizarre. It’s automatically powerful in terms of humor. But you have to add another dimension of humor to make it work.
  • Cruel – Saying something unkind.
  • Cute – Kids and animals. Calvin and Hobbes is the prime cartoon example. Cute kid, cute animal. Watterson mixed in bizarre, and he had cute and bizarre covered (talking animal). Once he had the formula, it worked.
  • Recognizable – Something about the joke or experience has to be familiar. Dilbert’s success came when it stayed in the workplace. Readers connected with his workplace woes. Make it recognizable –  funny to me because it’s about me, my spouse, my friends, etc.

P.S. Adams’ fictional novel, God’s Debris, is also highly instructive (philosophically).