Lost in Translation: Why Print Writing Doesn’t Work Online

As brands embrace journalism, one of the ideals they work toward is often “content re-use.” In theory it’s a great idea; use content that lives in one channel or format and repurpose it to another.

For example, if you have a long article in a print magazine, you can use that as a blog post, a PDF stand-alone or share via social media. It’s a good way to extend your marketing budget and create consistent ideas across channel.

Yet what many companies learn the hard way is that not all words are created equal.

“There are plenty of differences between writing online and writing for print when it comes to factors like style, sourcing, and payment protocol,” notes Jason Steele in Contently.

One of the key differences is the “hook,” Steele notes, explaining that most people don’t finish what they read online (thanks to all the distractions) so the content must quickly cut to the chase. Print readers, on the other hand, are more committed to the piece. The long form article has the luxury of being able to develop more slowly and engage more deeply.

Steele notes that “the reader of a magazine or newspaper has made a significantly larger investment of effort, time, and money to select an article. So even if a magazine article takes a few paragraphs before getting to the nut graph, the reader is less likely to just flip the page and move on the way we tend to do with online content.”

“Great long form journalism still gets published on the web every day, but it often comes from outlets traditionally known for print,” Steele continues. “But considering what it takes to keep up with the speed of news, longer articles just aren’t cost effective for anymore for a lot of online outlets.”

We are interested to see how this may change with the unleashing of Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News. Will digital readers stay engaged with the long form journalism being touted, or are they just a click away from the next shiny thing?