Good idea, bad writing

By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, June 02, 2010 At 6:54 PM

One of my favorite horse blogs, Fugly Horse of the Day, featured an article today. The premise was great — she applied to several horse rescues with made-up financial information, pictures of a property that's not hers, and even a picture of a starving horse she doesn't own. It was a great idea for investigative journalism: One rescue actually approved her, while one only denied her when they saw the picture of the horse. As she pointed out, she could have taken pictures of a beautiful property and a gorgeous horse, and they would have welcomed her with open arms, without ever checking that the property and the horse actually belonged to her.

(I'm linking to Fugly's post, by the way, NOT to the article. You can get there from the blog post if you want to read it, but I don't want to contribute inbound links to that site. Not that it'll make a difference, but still.)

Like I said in the title, great idea... Bad writing. The article was littered with grammatical errors, and lots of bad decisions about when to capitalize. (Seriously! Why do some people capitalize everything that seems remotely important to them?!) The writing also lacked some pizazz — the story was told pretty straightforwardly, but wasn't very compelling unless you really really care about horses. It was a great example of how poor writing can ruin a perfectly good idea.

Furthermore, I'd venture to say it was the wrong forum for investigative journalism. As much as likes to characterize themselves as made up of citizen journalists, I suspect they probably don't allow their "writers" to post anything negative about businesses. They are not a newspaper, so there would be too much pressure on them to take it down.

My irritation with the article made me realize that to me, poor writing trumps what site you write for. Really, if you want to write for peanuts, that's okay. Whatever. Just don't write like you are writing for peanuts!


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Anonymous Mridu Khullar Says:  

I've not read the blog post or the article you're talking about, so this is just a general observation. From my experience, in order to make a good idea work, you need to give the writer resources, a free reign, and the time to actually explore and discovery. No writer can afford to spend days or weeks on a piece that's paying pennies.

Regardless, something that most "citizen journalism" websites miss is an editor, and I can't tell you how important it is for more than one person to look at a piece and view it objectively, especially for topics and subjects that are sensitive.

Blogger Kathy@TheFlawlessWord Says:  

Wow, great minds think alike. My blog post today just happens to be about bad writing vs. good writing. Of course, we are talking here, so I'm not surprised.

Blogger Unknown Says:  

I am so glad to hear you say this! I'm tired of hearing the content mill writers defending their "craft." I'm sorry - you're keyword stringers at this point. Worse is when sites like this Fugly one tries passing these keyword articles off as actual journalism. There aren't that many people in the world nuts enough to want to wade through and figure out bland or bad writing.

Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

Mridu, I totally agree. The idea for this piece was fantastic, but how much time could they realistically spend on it? And yes, an editor was desperately needed!

Kathy, I wasn't surprised about the bad writing either, but I have to admit that I was impressed that the idea came from an writer. It's a great idea, it's just too bad the writer couldn't write well enough to pull it off.

Lori, I have to admit, if the article had been well-written, I would have applauded it. The idea was worthy of being called "actual journalism" -- it was just being done by someone who didn't have the skill or finesse to handle it. Of course, even had the article been well-written, it wouldn't have changed my mind about -- as Mridu pointed out, the pay is too low to justify spending the time required for a piece like that one. Furthermore, a credible news source would have made sure that the article was copy edited before it was published!


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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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