In the wake of the news that borderline tabloid news website Gawker.com is being shut down after losing a $125,000,000 lawsuit against former TV-wrestling celebrity Hulk Hogan, the news mills around the web have been churning out a lot of very interesting content. While I’m not a big fan of reading gossip, this internal document of company writing standards and how-to’s that Gawker.com provides to its writers is a very interesting read, indeed.
Here’s the document.
Editorial style guide
This page is adapted from Choire Sicha’s original Gawker Editor Manual, combined with wit and wisdom from Gina Trapani’s Lifehacker editor wiki and excerpts from editor newsletters.
All rules, of course, are made to be broken. But don’t break them until you’ve mastered them.
- Every post (save linkwraps) should have an angle.
- One joke per post, and one point — if you really have several points, list them
- Posts can be anything — inspired by a flickr photo, a blog post, news story, something you overheard, something you’ve always wondered.
What Does a Good Post Look Like?
To put this very plainly: a good post is almost always a short post .
Think concision. Paragraphs usually should be short — big blocks of text are hard on the eyes. Use MT’s “Extended Entry” function if text is longer than a couple of paragraphs. (The counter built into the MT interface turns red at 1,250 characters. This is a sign that it’s time to use the extended entry field.)
At the end of the post, hyperlink the title of the linked item and put the source in brackets. Stack multiple links, if any. [Via] links to bloggers are also encouraged, where appropriate. Never be afraid to share the linklove .
Good posts are also almost always illustrated. See Mark Lisanti’s First Rule of Blogging:people love photos . When you’re blessed with a truly brilliant shot, resist the urge to overwrite it. A strong image speaks for itself.
Related: Keep your posts tight! There’s no need for a line break after a paragraph of text before the link to the article you’re talking about. Always look to save vertical space in your posts.
Context, Context, Context!!!
There’s NOTHING worse for a reader than not knowing who it is you’re writing about. Always identify, always give context, every post: Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Former Howard Dean presidential campaign consultant and author Joe Trippi. Former pop star and current Kabbala enthusiast Madonna. Social bookmarking service del.icio.us. Don’t assume your audience knows who or what you’re talking about.
In-post links to previous items on the same topic can be a useful way of adding context, but can’t be relied on as a crutch alone.
Related: Spell out acronyms the first time you use them in a post, even if it’s something everyone should know. Because not everyone does know.
- Be short.
- “It’s too random/stupid/weird to post!” — probably, it isn’t. Be weird.
- Be fast. Readers forget Friday’s big story by Monday morning, so don’t save that extra post about it until then.
- Use lists (useful all the time: from a long, turgid newspaper article, a great list can be a good way to summarize)
- Explain big stories in a FAQ or Q&A format (also endlessly useful for backgrounders on people, events, etc)
- Link to other sites in most every post
- Treat everyone from random bloggers to famous publications on same level as an organizing principle
- Don’t engage in link vendettas against other bloggers or participate in “link bans” — you should always link anyone who has posted good content
Trade Journalism: The Enemy
Let’s leave no doubt: TRADE JOURNALISM IS THE ENEMY.
What’s trade journalism, in the Gawker context? Any dull industry news likely to be of no interest to the average reader of your site, especially when presented in a way that offers no reason to care. Look for these warning signs as you’re writing a post:
- Random statistics
- Random figures like “$152 million in revenues”
- Random people no one’s ever heard of
- Flat sentences that sound like they could be lifted straight from a press release
Here are three trade stories on three different sites just in one 24-hour period at Gawker Media:
Gawker: Times PR Person Moves to Chrystie’s http://tinyurl.com/qcxy3 Classic boring trade story about the job change of a PR person no one’s ever heard of — presented as a scoop, no less! The commenter on this post nails it: who gives a fuck?
Kotaku: Activision Sued for Unpaid Overtime http://tinyurl.com/r78r5 Ugh! “The lawsuit filed by Shapiro Haber & Urmy of Boston charges that an animator who worked for Activision’s internal studio Luxoflux between 2001 and 2004 was forced to work unlawful unpaid overtime. The class action lawsuit asks not only for the animator’s unpaid wages, but for Activision to pay penalties and punitive damages current and former Activision employees who were similarly sweatshopped.” Okay, add any mention of a lawfirm to the warning list above. Hardcore gamers could care less about this.
Gizmodo: Motorola Buys BenQ R&D Facility http://tinyurl.com/ryq9b This might be the worst example of this troika. Insanely boring news — a company is buying a factory — is couched with no analysis whatsoever of what this means for either company, the gadget community, or anyone else. Worse, the prose that is here — “The facility features high-tech measurement facilities such as antenna chambers and environmental laboratories” — is utterly pointless.
Listen, obviously every Gawker site is under pressure to cover its industry/subject niche in a comprehensive way. But there are plenty of clever ways to do it that don’t resort to this kind of stuff. At the very least, if some trade-y news is so important that you can’t not post it, have the decency to explain to your readers why they should care . If you can’t, it’s the wrong item to write.
Using Humor… Or Not
- Yeah, so Gawker sites are all supposed to be hilarious all the time, right? Uh, no. Save jokes for when you’ve got a good one, and humor for when you’re making yourself laugh. Fine for posts, especially newsy ones, to be straightforward.
- When you do make a joke, don’t overdo it. One joke/punchline an item, unless you’re a genius.
- If you’re blockquoting something really funny, don’t be afraid to let the person you’re quoting have the last word. Adding a kicker for the sake of adding a kicker is pointless.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of blockquoting too much, too often. If you’re blockquoting something that’s mostly just factual in nature, better to rewrite the facts in your own style. Also resist the urge to blockquote a passage that’s just restating your lead. Save blockquote usage for when its impact really works: particularly hilarious or outrageous quotes, for example.
Related: don’t let blockquotes get overlong . You’re not helping the reader if you’re feeding them three or four paragraphs of blockquoted text from a random New York Times story. As in blockquotes, as in blogging: keep it short.
Miscellaneous But Incredibly Important Advice
- If you have an exclusive, play it up — ideally in headline
- “Everyone already saw this on randomblog.net, so I won’t bother posting it” — no, they probably didn’t. Post it.
- When appropriate, flood the zone — lots of follow-up posts on a previous post, or when a big story is breaking
- Watch for opportunities to liveblog — not just keynotes, but, say, the naming of a new Pope, or a special episode of Oprah
Use Extended Entries
- Longer posts should break in the middle and finish off in the extended entry
- If the Ganja interface is flashing red at you, it’s time to jump
- Find a natural breaking point where the [MORE] link will make sense
- Entice the reader to click through with a teaser introduction
- Don’t hide the story beyond the [MORE] link — give it away with a good teaser and a promise of more info
- Primary link should appear at the bottom of the post as usual, beyond the [MORE]
- Don’t leave a blockquote open between the entry and extended entry field; close, then reopen on the other side
Use Explicit Headlines
Users look at the first couple of words of a news headline, and don’t always continue reading. Make your headlines Google-friendly : if someone saw just the post headline in Google or Google News, would they know enough about the topic to click through? Headlines should describe the post and be written in a fairly straight manner. Proper names and identifiers should be used whenever possible.
- Reader should be able to scan headlines and see what posts are about immediately
- Avoid anything indirect (ie, sarcasm, dumb jokes, too general)
- Preface titles with post types where applicable, ie
- Ask Gizmodo: How do I put on pants?
- Geek to Live: The best pencil protector
- Gawker Stalker: Very Special Lindsay Lohan Edition
- Bad title: “Money tips”
- Good title: “Save Money: Clip coupons at Coupons.com”
- Bad title: “Share files”
- Good title: “Friendster’s Grouper shares files with friends”
- Bad title: “There He Goes Again”
- Good title: “Mayor Bloomberg Still Not Wearing Pants”
Write Strong Leads
Many readers skim down a blog in a matter of seconds looking for something of interest to catch their eye. A good headline can reel them in, but if a post begins in a way that’s turgid or boring, they’ll be on to the next item before they’ve hit the meat of what your post is about. Most posts don’t need cute setups: cut to the chase .
- Get right to the point
- Avoid throat-clearing or throwaway jokes
- Tell the story in the first sentence
- Bad lead: “I love Jello.”
- Good lead: “Everyone’s favorite dessert Jello makes both a great addition to your brown bag lunch AND shots at a frat party.”
- Bad lead: “Webapp Hijinx makes sure you can always manage your toenail clippings from any Internet-connected computer.”
- Good lead: “Webapp Hijinx manages your toenail clippings online.”
- Bad lead: “I have what I believe is the best setup ever.”
- Good lead: “Keyboard-sharing application Synergy lets me use both my Mac and PC with one keyboard and mouse.”
Choire Sicha’s Elements of Gawker Style
As a basic guideline, headlines should refrain from using any words that are forbidden on network TV at night. There aren’t many restrictions in the text itself; that being said, instead of a hard and fast rule, writers should try to avoid over-the-top swearing. In general, swearing should be fairly sparse, but when done, should be treated the same way we treat sex and drugs – casually and matter-of-factly.
Profanity is best used as a description, not as a metaphor. Such as: okay to write about ass-fucking when there IS ass fucking, instead of the hackneyed “blowjob” for description of an overly-friendly piece in a paper.
The names of publications, television shows, books, albums, should always be printed in italics. The names of articles should be rendered in quotation marks. We do not render appellations or titles of individuals, but always introduce people by job description or other identifier (“Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter”). Avoid abbreviations.
For ampersands, trademarks, and other non-standard characters, please use the appropriate unicode character.
Post titles and link titles should be sentence case. Example: “Tommy Mottola Faces the Music.” Stacked link titles at the bottom of posts should replicate, as closely as possible, the headline/title of the page/article being linked.
Certain regularly used publications can be abbreviated, when cited as sources.
NY Times = NYT
NY Post = Post
New York Magazine = NY mag
The New York Observer = NYO
Wall Street Journal = WSJ
Financial Times = FT
Washington Post = WaPo
In this paragraph, let’s use an ellipsis two ways! “In a quotation… I’ll omit some speech!” And then, using four dots, I’ll complete or truncate a sentence by trailing off…. See how there are no spaces between the points or before them?
My number one peeve and the most inconsistent usage between Gawker writers. Setting off a clause or phrase with a long dash should always be coded in HTML. This is annoying but you get used to it—I promise you do—even though at first it’s really irritating. There are no spaces around the em-dash. No more double hyphens please! I’ll go postal! (Yes, and, you may actually use – for those rare moments of writing 1979-1984 or January-April.) “The Trouble with EM ‘N EN” has more details:http://www.alistapart.com/stories/emen/
Valleywag, however, uses the old-school space-two-hyphens-and-a-space: ” — “. This is simply Owen’s preference, and since he has been hand-coding HTML since before most of you graduated from high school, if you have a problem with it, you can take it up with him, and you can run your own site however makes you happy.
You may not use more than one colon per sentence. A colon may set off a list that is then separated by semi-colons. Semi-colons may be used alone in a sentence only if they are to set off a part of speech that would not stand alone as a sentence.
Fortunately, I don’t need to tell you about how commas go inside final quotation marks, and how punctuation goes inside parenthetical expressions! (Though I need to tell a few interns. And we just did it wrong in a post this morning. Ah, well. Sleepy!)
We over- and misuse constructions like “actress/model/hooker.” Slashes actually indicate alternatives, not combined ideas or facts. Also, slash-phrases read horribly. Use very sparingly.
Mercy, this is one of the worst to grapple with. Most of them make sense intuitively and we hyphenate right, but here are a few situations in which we go wrong with over-hyphenation:
- No hyphens for two-word modifiers when the first is a superlative: “best loved books.” 2. No hyphens for two-word modifiers if the first is an adverb ending in -ly: “eagerly awaited film.”
There are a million more rules governing hyphens, but really, who gives a shit.
Spacing Between Sentences.
We are not using typewriters. Sentences always only take one space after their period. For reals!
USAGES AND SPELLINGS
But I Must Remind About Latin Abbreviations! 1. etc. means “et cetera,” as in “and so forth.” It is spelled ETC. If I ever see ect. again, I will light myself on fire. 2. et al means “et alii” as in “and others,” meaning literally more people or things. 3. ad nauseam is the most commonly misspelled, and means “to a ridiculous degree.” USE SPARINGLY.
Which/That I always go wrong with these. My cheap rule is “When in doubt, use ‘that.'” You may read this, if you really care: http://www.bartleby.com/64/C001/062.html
That/Who Easy! That is for things, who is for people. “He’s the dude who was doing kegstands!” “That’s the keg that was getting standed!”
The rules for capitalization in headlines are arcane and weird. I have never mastered them, and have been circumventing them by capitalizing EVERY word in headlines. Let’s just go with all-majuscule, instead of having brain-freezes about whether all articles and prepositions go down or up. Capitalize It All!
Valleywag, the sole exception among Gawker Media sites, uses sentence case for headlines. Why? Because Denton ran it that way, and Valleywag’s current management doesn’t feel like making new headlines inconsistent with the archive.
No wandering in. Stop wandering in. Don’t wander in. Heh. Anyway. Our most common bad lede is saying that someone wrote something about someone. That’s not usually why you’re writing about them! If you’re conveying something, start there, and do credit later.
TAKING THE JUMP FORMATTING
It is crazy to end the part of the post before the jump with a colon, indicating a quote or something else to come. That is not a teaser, or an incentive to take the jump. It is grammatically weird and goofy-looking. I have removed every one of these instances in edits, and there’s always been a simple solution.
I’ve seen a lot of one-sentence blockquoting happening before the jumps. This is usually just a waste of space. If you just wanna quote something, try: “He told the Times: ‘Blah blah blah'” and move the heck on. I hate our current blockquoting setup and hope it’ll be less big and red in the near future, but for now, use sparingly before jump. It’s called a blockquote cuz you’re quoting a block! Hi-o! Also, when copying and pasting into blockquotes, definitely insert a space between the paragraphs if the source you’re quoting from doesn’t.
Hey, what does that “alt” tag mean in the img tags? Why, that’s how blind people look at our photos! Please take the time to replace the alt text. It’s hideous. Our two blind readers, and the people reading by Treo or whatever, don’t need to see “4228983_bunny57.jpg” instead of the photo. If you feel up for it, you can join me and Ken Layne in inserting “title” tags in the images for pop-up text, but that’s not required. We just enjoy doing it. (Goes inside the img tag and looks like: title=”Look, I’m making a stupid joke for photo mouse-over!”)
BUTTING UP TO TAGS
Both blockquote and image tags require text to be right next to it. If you have a linebreak after your right-aligned image, you’ll have an annoying space at the top of your post. If you have a space after or before your blockquoting, you’ll have an extra line of annoying space. Tighten it up!
WORDS AND PHRASES THAT YOU MAY NEVER USE
A long list, sure, but it is topped by “interesting” and “funny” and “of interest.” If it’s funny or interesting, that’ll prove itself, and it’s actually not funny or interesting if you have to describe it as such. See also: “Arguably.” (Fuck no.) This list also includes “lede” and “hed” and other sorts of made up journo-words. Gag. Finally, do not ever suggest in your writing that you do not care about something, or are bored by it, or that you do not know about something, or that you are above it. If you don’t care, are bored, or are confused, or the like, don’t write about it. Or fake it. Nothing is more off-putting for a reader than arriving at a post pre-bored and pre-disinterested. No apologies, no regrets.