FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Secrets of the Front Page Diary
I first started on this site as a diarist/commenter in July 2004. When I joined RedState it was much smaller, at times you felt like there were more front page writers than diarists, and, believe it or not, the comments were overrun with lefties. Even so, one of the biggest thrills was having your diary promoted to the front page.
Being an infantryman by training, experience, and psychological inclination I’m not particularly bright. One thing I can do, though, is follow a template. At that time there was a short guide on the site, since vanished, which gave some guidelines on what a promotable diary looked like. I printed it and studied it.
Two months into my RedState experience, on my fourth diary, it happened to me for the first time. It was Nirvana even for someone with an ego as repressed as mine.
I’ve been looking at our diaries for sometime, seeking candidates for promotion and authors to nominate to the immensely lucrative position of front page writer, and I’ll tell you it is a disappointment. Given the choice between cursing the darkness and lighting a candle let me share with you what I look for in promoting a diary to the front page.
The literary agent, Noah Lukeman, has a book called The First Five Pages, where he confesses that a manuscript has a max of five pages to convince an agent to read further. I’ll tell you that you have a max of two grafs to catch my eye, on most occasions you have one graf to persuade me to actually read your diary.
Why do I tell you this? Not to convince you that I’m important but to point out two facts.
First, I, like the other front pagers, have a real job. Our time spent on RedState moderating discussion, reviewing diaries for promotion, writing diaries, and if some are to be believed maligning long time members, banning people willy-nilly, and destroying the conservative movement, is volunteered. It comes at stolen moments during the work day, during our commute, over our lunch hour, or at home at night.
Second, a lot of diaries are posted each day. It takes a while to review them. You have to come up with some method to decide, quickly, which diary merits detailed reading and which should be dismissed out of hand.
So what am I looking for?
Grammar. Spelling. Punctuation.
Rule: If you don’t have the time to write it, I don’t have time to read it.
If you misspell the name of the person you’re writing about, if Erick Erickson becomes Erik or Eric, I read no further. If your spelling sucks in this age of spell check, if your grammar is awful, if you write “u r” instead of “you are” this shows me that you don’t take your work seriously.
I don’t demand perfection, I did, after all, go to school in southern Virginia and spent my early adulthood in the Army, but I do demand that you make an attempt at proofreading your work.
Lest this strikes you as elitism, it is actually laziness. The contributor who promotes a diary has responsibility for cleaning it up. The correct use of English goes a long way towards making this easy.
Remember. If you screw any one of these up I will judge you.
Your topic doesn’t have to be the most recent headline, though that helps, but it has to be interesting to the readership. The only person on this site who can get by with arcane posts and obscure SciFi and movie references is Moe Lane. I know Moe Lane. Moe Lane is a friend of mine. You are no Moe Lane.
Don’t be derivative. Someone famous once said “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Democrats suck. We know that. Eric Cantor sucks. We know that. John Boehner sucks. We know that. Obama was born in Kenya…. oops, I let down my guard there for a moment. Don’t tell me what Jonah Goldberg or Charles Krauthammer or George Will said. I learned to read at age 5 as did a lot of people on this list. What is your take on what they missed? What they got wrong? Where they went too far or not far enough? How does an news article link to other things happening that seem unrelated or foreshadow a coming trend. Do you have experience in military affairs, banking, insurance, etc.? Well use your experience to explain what something like the F-35 fighter engine controversy means from your industry point of view. Trust me, I’d rather read something that left my mouth agape in disbelief than yawn.
Barack Obama Sucks as a title is not going to get read. Same with John Boehner Is A Sell Out and The Failure of Fiat Money. If it contains vulgarity I’m not going to read it, unless I want to see if the diary is bad enough to merit banning you, because I’m not going to promote it.
When it comes to writing diaries subtitles are the most fun you can have while keeping your clothes on. Use it. A clever subtitle shows you have thought about your diary.
Critical element. Read the RedState Morning Briefing. Decide if your first graf will fit in there. One of the criteria of making your way onto the front page is that it might be suitable for the Morning Briefing. One of the requirements of making the Morning Briefing is that Erick doesn’t have to edit the first graf very much.
Pertinent anecdotes are powerful. Find them and use them. They are out there.
Colored fonts do not animate moribund text. A variety of fonts do not make the banal interesting. More importantly, experimenting with fonts may violate the laziness principle. For your diary to be promoted to the front page the font must be the default Arial that RedState uses. I’d encourage you to either compose on the site text editor or to compose in Note Pad or Word Pad and paste into the “HTML” window of the site text editor. If you compose in MS Word and paste you will bring in all manner of html code that some schlub of a contributor will have to manually remove. I have bypassed great diaries because they were written in MS Word.
I like pictures because I’m an infantryman. I really like them when they make the point you are making in your diary or are funny. Make sure they are appropriately sized. Make sure they don’t have watermarks. Upload them from your computer, whatever you do don’t link to the URL on someone else’s website. People have done that to us in the past. We always replace that image with something much more interesting. If you don’t want clown porn adorning your diary, make sure the image is on the RedState server.
If you embed video that is critical to understanding the story you should consider linking to a transcript. If the video is critical to my understanding the story and there is no transcript and I see the run time is longer than :90 I’m not going to watch it and that means that I won’t read what point you’re trying to make.
This is not, contrary to what many believe, where you declare your undying fealty to Ron Paul or Pat Buchanan or find deep dark Opus Dei/Bilderberger conspiracies. If you are unclear, this is a pretty good definition. For our purposes the nut graf should support the page break (see below) and whet the reader’s appetite for more.
If your diary is promoted to the front page it will have no more than three or four grafs readable above the fold. If you are writing for the front page your nut graf has to provide a clear break so the story above the fold makes sense and so the reader is enticed to “Read More.” This will sound minor to a lot of folks but I regularly pass very good diaries because they are written like long form essays and I can’t insert a break without an extensive rewriting of the dairy… which I’m not going to do.
Accuracy. Accuracy. Accuracy.
Like a lot of the other contribs, I can give most anyone a run at trivial pursuit because I know a smidgen about a lot of subjects. This is unlike Thomas Crown who knows a lot about everything. I also have all my fingers and opposable thumbs so I can use Google. If I see any fact that I don’t know to be true, and there is no link provided, I will look it up. Depending on the egregiousness of the mistake I may or may not read further and I may or may not drop you from my reading list permanently.
Don’t swamp me with links but anytime you say “Barack Obama said xxxx” I expect a link to where he said that. If you use extended text from an article in a blockquote I expect a link. If you cite a fact that is not generally known I expect a link. If you have a question, link.
If you think about linking to PrisonPlanet, Alternet, Debkafiles, World Net Daily, Newsmax, Lew Rockwell, RonPaul.com, or similar as a source for a fact — as opposed to an example of what someone is saying on a subject — I would counsel you to stop, take a deep breath, and consider the fact that you may be on the verge of a tragic and avoidable self-beclowning.
Your last graf should pithily sum up the problem, the situation, and the solution. Devote as much time to this as you did to your opening graf… if not more. If you can’t sum up everything in two-three-or-four sentences you need to make sure you’re not including too many angles or too many problems in your story.
So there you have it, gentle readers. This is how I review diaries for promotion. I think you’ll find that most of the contribs follow a very similar checklist. Following this guidance doesn’t mean that everything you write will be promoted but casually disregarding it means that your diaries will not get promoted.