Practical advice for longform writers

While daily news journalism continues to suffer from job losses and budget cuts, demand for longform journalism is growing.

That’s according to Professor of Journalism at the University of Canberra and Editia Prize judge Matthew Ricketson, who spoke at the Walkley Media Conference in Canberra yesterday.

In a workshop titled From Daily Journalism to Longform Journalism, Ricketson said that longform journalism is of particular importance in a world where news is updated by the second.

“There are some things that you can’t achieve in daily news. The context is often missing, and details can’t be explored in depth,” he said.

Demand for longform reads has increased as readers seek comprehensive reporting at a digestible length. Ricketson said that there has never been more longform journalism around, “and it has never been more available”.

Despite this demand, longform journalism is often viewed as a side project.

“For writers, there are jobs that bring in the bread and butter, and there are jobs that feed your soul. Longform journalism is in the latter category,” Ricketson said.

During the workshop he gave practical tips for daily news journalists considering writing longer works, such as abandoning the inverted news pyramid style for writing that is narrative and scene driven.

“You have to give someone a reason to stay for thousands of words,” he said.

When writing longform journalism, Ricketson said that the standard journalist’s questions of who, what, when, where, why and how can be replaced with character, action, setting, chronology, motive and narrative.

He used excerpts from Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (one of the first non-fiction “novels” ever written) to show how this is done. He explained that dialogue is more effective than quotations in longer works, because “using dialogue makes the reader feel as though they are watching a play unfold in front of them. They hear moods; they understand contexts”. He also encouraged using vivid descriptions that draw on all senses.

“Sense of smell is underrated … but it isn’t part of the daily journalist’s lexicon,” he said.

Ricketson also examined In Cold Blood’s flaws, such as the use of omniscient narration (where the narrator knows everything).

“The omniscient narrator voice is not possible in nonfiction because there are always gaps and contradictions in what journalists can know about an event,” he said.

Journalists are presented with similar difficulties when recreating scenes and including sourcing and attribution.

“Reconstructing scenes is tricky. It can be done, but to what extent? And how do you reconcile that with the reader?

“You have to persuade the reader that you’re not making things up.”

Amy Birchall is a journalist at MSA Media, editor and publicist at Halstead Press, member of the ACT Writers Centre board and a blogger who regularly contributes to Editia’s social media streams.






Editia at the Walkleys

The October-November edition of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance’s Walkley Magazine features a two-page feature by Editia Founder + Publisher Charlotte Harper entitled Rise of the journopreneur.

Continuing that theme, Charlotte joined a panel at the 2012 Walkeys Conference in Canberra yesterday called Maverick to mainstream: successful start-ups. The session looked at “the secrets of successful media ventures from some of the industry’s sharpest entrepreneurs, while learning effective ways to overcome the many challenges of a competitive marketplace of ideas”.

Chaired by James Kirby, who together with fellow shareholders Alan Kohler, Stephen Bartholomeusz and Robert Gottliebsen recently sold Australian Independent Business Media to News Ltd for some $30 million, the panel featured John Griffiths, Editor and Founder, RiotACT; Leonard Witt, US journalist, scholar and blogger; and Jane Nicholls, CEO, The Global Mail.

Each spoke for seven minutes about their background and start-up experiences. Here is part of Charlotte’s presentation, including several paragraphs that didn’t make the cut:

If you’d like to run your own start-up but have no idea where to start, try working for another small business first. As publisher of Management Today, I work for Canberra start-up MSA Media. Run by former News Ltd journalists Gerard McManus and Tom Skotnicki, MSA pitched against ACP and Pacific for the Management Today contract and won.

I run a team of young writers there and it’s a hotbed of creative ideas, some of which are on track for 2013 launch. Working with Tom and Gerard is like undertaking a journalist’s apprenticeship in small business management.

Being involved with online publishing since 1997, I’ve worked on numerous such in-house launches. Intrapreneurship is a great way to learn project management skills.

While blogging and social media smarts are essential, these will come more easily to journalists than competitor analysis, business plan writing, bookkeeping, design and contract negotiation. I recommend Xero for bookkeeping and befriending a contracts expert or lawyer as well as a graphic designer.

Other factors to consider are insurance (professional indemnity, public liability, workers compensation) and ergonomics for occupational health and safety – including your own.

Take small business courses run by local/state government business development arms; attend industry events, courses and conferences related to your idea; read books like Ian Benjamin’s Consulting, Contracting and Freelancing, John English’s How to Organise and Operate a Small Business in Australia and Entrepreneurial Journalism: How to Build What’s Next for News by Mark Briggs and visit websites like Startup Smart, Mashable and Flying Solo.

Learn from the mistakes of others, and most importantly, your own.

In launching Editia, I’ve discovered that most things cost 20% more than you budget for and take twice as long as you expect.

I’ve also learnt that it’s possible to be too cutting edge. Nearly half the people I talked to about crowdfunding in promoting our first book had never heard of the concept. We needed to explain what it was before we could begin to convert them into customers.

Another hitch was the many requests for a PDF or physical proof review copy from those who found ePub and browser-based versions beyond them. We will cater to this in future.

A big lesson was that ebook distribution is not yet ready for our fast turnaround needs. We went direct to Amazon and Apple and the book was live within hours. For other retailers, we used a specialist distributor with mixed results. From here on, we will only deal direct.

More positively, I am inspired daily by the success of journalist-driven ventures like Wendy Harmer’s the Hoopla, Mia Freedman’s Mama Mia, Amanda Gome’s last launch for Private Media, Women’s Agenda, and Tim Burrowes’ Mumbrella.

Australian university journalism schools should be inviting entrepreneurs like these to present guest lectures on their experiences, and indeed offering entire postgraduate entrepreneurial journalism courses, perhaps in partnership with TAFE, for journalists with a few years’ experience.

Some of my UC students already have plans for subscription blogs and YouTube channels of their own – I believe that even at the undergraduate level, we should be helping them develop these plans rather than dwelling on how legacy media organisations operate.

If I were in a position to, I’d be heading to the US in 2013 to attend the City University of New York’s 15-week entrepreneurial journalism course, which is designed for mid-career journalists. Students develop a start-up project and work with Big Apple start-ups like the Atavist and FourSquare. One student raised $50,000 via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to get his project,, off the ground this year.

Despite all the doom and gloom in mainstream media, digital technologies provide real opportunities for journalists to build their own profiles and create the stories that they want to publish or broadcast globally – wherever they are, whatever their means and no matter how many babies and children are sharing the home office.

Editia’s latest addition

Editia Founder + Publisher Charlotte Harper with newborn son Alexander last Friday.

So what happens when you start a small business in late August and have a baby ten weeks or so later?

Here at Editia, we’re in the process of finding out.

Founder + Publisher Charlotte Harper has been on maternity leave since her second child, Alexander, was born last Friday.

Given Editia’s fledgling status, as well as that of her primary employer (another Canberra publishing start-up), Charlotte will be relying on the Federal Government’s paid maternity leave scheme for income over the next 18 weeks.

One condition of the Government’s scheme is that if the recipient works for more than one hour on any given day during the 18 weeks, the payments cease.

While it’s practically impossible to work for more than an hour when you’re juggling a newborn anyway, this limit does make things very tricky for sole traders.

Is it possible to keep a business going on 59 minutes a day? Ticking over, yes. Expanding, not likely! Especially given most of Editia’s costs are at this stage covered through Charlotte’s teaching earnings, which are also on hold till late March.

To help keen things on track, we’re taking on a couple of summer interns from the University of Canberra’s journalism program. These final year students are keen to learn more about longform journalism and digital publishing while gaining some hands on experience in all aspects of this start-up’s operation.

We’ll also be focusing on a series of new projects to bring existing print titles to digital life (more news on this soon). These works will require just as much effort in terms of marketing and distribution as our digital first titles, but less up front investment in time or money given the editing and book cover design are in hand. They’re ideal for this quiet time for Editia, and we can’t wait to tell you all about them in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, we are working with three authors on original longform journalism titles for digital first publication once normality, or Editia’s version of it, resumes.

We’re also planning to publish an updated version of Anna Maguire’s Crowdfund it! in ebook and print of demand form in the first quarter of 2013.

Watch this space for news of Charlotte’s own upcoming book project too. Pregnancy and new motherhood really do inspire new ideas. Viva la mumpreneur!

Crowdfunding gurus debate the latest issues

The highlight of last Sunday’s launch of Crowdfund it! was the panel event, during which experts on crowdfunding responded to probing questions from an attentive and inquisitive audience on the phenomenon.

Tough queries covered issues such as what the success of crowdfunding means for Government funding of the arts sector, how the platforms ensure that campaigners meet their commitments, legal issues around entrepreneurial campaigns, and what should happen to excess funds when campaigners exceed their targets.

Check out some inspirational presentations (the first from author of Crowdfund it! author Anna Maguire and the second from Startsomegood founder Tom Dawkins) on our YouTube channel here or by clicking on the video screens below.

Editia’s moment in the spotlight

We managed to squeeze in a couple of minutes talking about Editia’s plans and founder + publisher Charlotte Harper’s 1978 Mr Men book before getting onto the serious business of debating latest issues in crowdfunding at the launch event at Gleebooks last week. See Charlotte’s welcome presentation on our YouTube channel here or click on the video screen below.

Editia cupcakes and crowdfunding experts at Gleebooks

Anna Maguire and Charlotte HarperEditia cupcakesCrowdfund it! launch: expert panel

A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered at Gleebooks last Sunday (September 23) to celebrate the launch of Crowdfund it! and its publisher, Editia.

The highlight was the panel event, at which three of the founders/co-founders of Australia’s major crowdfunding platforms (Tom Dawkins of Startsomegood, Rick Chen of Pozible and Bryan Vadas of iPledg) took to the stage together for the first time – along with Crowdfund it! author Anna Maguire and successful crowdfunding campaigner Kate Toon – to discuss latest developments in the phenomenon.

The cupcakes were delicious.

You can see more photos from the day in our gallery on the Editia Facebook page and the Pinterest board created for the launch.

Videos coming up shortly.

‘Zeitgeisty’ Crowdfund it! in Spectrum

Editia in Spectrum

Editia and its first title, Crowdfund it!, made their Sydney Morning Herald debut today. SMH literary editor Susan Wyndham rang earlier this week to talk about what we’re up to. She’s right: Crowdfund it! is Zeitgeisty, and Anna Maguire is a digital expert. Wyndham was very encouraging when we spoke, and enthusiastic about her own work and role at Fairfax despite the recent round of redundancies. It’s great to see the SMH paying attention to digital start-ups (the item above ours is about another new publisher,

Crowdfund it! on international TV

Business Today screengrab

If you were in any doubt as to the identity of Australia’s leading expert on crowdfunding, look no further than this video of Anna Maguire’s appearance on Business Today on ABC News 24 earlier today.

The program airs in Asia and the Pacific on the Australia Network as well as being broadcast live on News24 and ABC1, so the message is going global (appropriately, as the book is available the world over, of course).

Anna knows crowdfunding inside out and back to front, as readers of her book, Crowdfund it!, know already. She provides a brilliant overview of the phenomenon during the interview.

Editia is thrilled to be a part of Anna’s success.

We at Editia are also mighty impressed at her media performance. You’d think she was a television regular! Perhaps she will be after today.

Press releases for Crowdfund it, Editia, Editia Prize launches

We’ll be talking to the media about Editia’s books, events and plans in more detail soon, but here are our official launch press releases for starters …

Please click here to view the PDF of the press release for the launch of digital publishing start-up Editia.

Please click here to view the PDF of the official launch press release for Crowdfund it!

Please click here to view the PDF of the press release for the launch of the Editia Prize.

Crowdfund it! is on Goodreads

Goodreads screengrabCrowdfund it! is now on Goodreads. If you’re a Goodreads user and you’ve read the book, please jump on and give it a review …

Add currently lonely Editia as a friend ( too!

Crowdfund it!Crowdfund it! by Anna Maguire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a great guide for those contemplating running a crowdfunding campaign, but also interesting reading for anyone who likes to keep up with developments in culture and technology. Disclaimer: I am its publisher! You can buy it for $AUD7 at

View all my reviews