These days everyone’s a storyteller or publisher. Your mate down the pub’s getting a million hits a month on her blog, the couple who run the brewery in town have set up their own online magazine and even your gran’s yoga tips have a sizeable readership on Instagram.
As a professional writer it can be pretty dispiriting to find that anyone can do your job, even a machine. Artificial intelligence is all the rage in business and the technology to automate content is becoming more affordable and available. Moreover, if your content doesn’t have a compelling headline that encourages the reader to click or get cancer, or find themselves stunned and appalled at number six, then there’s no place for it.
Professional storytellers are redundant within this noise, aren’t they?
Or are they? Isn’t there always room at the top for quality?
Natalie Weaving is director of award-winning digital marketing agency The Typeface Group. She says there is. "Quality content always wins out against quantity," argues Weaver. "The relevance of that content to the audience and the business producing it top trumps it all."
So no matter that there’s tons of information out there, she says, "It is easy for a business to publish reams of content that is not well written or has any connection to what they do. They are trying to play an SEO game that could lead them being penalised. Not only that, eventually their audience will start to question their professionalism if they can’t even be bothered to put some thought into their content."
So it’s good news for providers of quality content, right? "Weeelll," says Simon Brew, editor of Den Of Geek. "In terms of getting noticed, if you wrote a 1000-word feature, the best piece of work in your life, and popped it on your blog, or 200 words of Oscar clickbait for the Daily Mail, which is going to get read more? Sadly, it’s barely worth even getting to the end of the question the answer is that obvious."
Ellie Levenson is a freelance writer and has taught journalism at Goldsmiths, University of London, since 2005. She is also author of Creativity and Feature Writing: How to get hundreds of new ideas every day (Routledge). She believes that good writing will find a readership: "Just because there is more content available than ever before doesn't mean it is any good. Some of it is, just as some content in the traditional media is poor, but on the whole good writing, wherever it is, will find an audience."
And in many ways, says Levenson, the playing field has been levelled for good writing. "In the social media age, good work in obscure publications can be shared many times, and good writers can publish without having to convince an editor to do so." She adds, "We teach our students more technology based skills than in the past and every new journalist should be able to create videos and images and present data effectively, but the core skills of finding and telling stories remain the same."
It’s worth remembering that things evolve and confound expectation. "Not long ago all the talk was of video supplanting text as content for websites," says Piers Jackson, who runs content agency, Jackson Quigg Associates, "but high-quality text is an essential tool for businesses looking to generate online traffic for sales, and for bloggers who need to attract and keep the interest of casual browsers." He adds, "writing that is badly spelled, grammatically incorrect, poorly laid out and sometimes effectively incoherent does the business or blogger no favours."