Equal Words, Unequal Quality

By Morgan Harper

I'm not exactly a "lucky" girl. I hit every red light when I'm running 10 minutes late to work. I've never found a four-leaf clover or won anything in a raffle. I haven't dodged a traffic ticket since I was 15 and rammed my dad's car into the back of a church bus (seriously, Thank GOD). I hate going to sports events because there's about a 70% chance I'll get hit in the face with a ball if I go near one. Alanis Morrissette's "Ironic" is probably the most relatable song I've ever heard.

Despite my chronic bad luck, however, I've recently realized that, as an English for Corporate Communications major, I'm really lucky. Not because I have awesome grades or a remarkably impressive resume, but because, right now, hundreds of new forms of rhetoric and communication are reaching people all over the world. What a time to be alive!

Whether you’re currently majoring in Public Relations, Mass Communications, or English for Corporate Communications, it seems that you can't go wrong with pursuing a degree that's concentrated on building strong writing skills. Communication is the backbone of every successful business and organization, and with endless advances in the digital world coming forth everyday, our career options are growing rapidly.

Still, as an incoming senior, I’ve been plagued with immeasurable anxieties about my not-so-distant future lately. On paper, it looks like I'm on the right track—I make decent grades, have had a few internships, and have an archive of good references. I've managed to stay fairly involved on campus during the past three years and have built a solid foundation to spring forward. But what concerns me as a writer is that, with all of these online platforms providing everyone with an opportunity to become a "writer," it's a huge challenge to discover what sets me apart from the average.

If you think about it, everyone with Internet access now has the tools needed to produce and publish their own writing. Blogs, social media, and online publications all allow people to publicly acclaim themselves as writers, regardless of who they are, what they know, or if they actually have any writing skills. As you scroll down your news feed on Facebook, you're inevitably going to come across an empty, poorly written article that your Facebook friends have shared; either with the caption "YES" or some long, drawn-out testimonial that makes your eyes roll dangerously.

You know the kind of articles I'm talking about—the ones that come in bullet-point form with a series of GIFs as animation, or the infamous "open letters" that usually sound like a page ripped straight from a 13-year-old girl's diary. The best theory I’ve been able to come up with to explain why we like reading these articles is that they are, on some level, entertaining, and perhaps more notably, easy on the brain. It's more fun to read a 250-word article that directly applies to you… and there are hundreds of others out there who can relate to one very broad concept or idea. It's more fun to read articles designed to make you laugh or reflect on the shallow, light aspects of life. Personally, I don't often run into content-heavy articles unless I report to one group of specific platforms—namely, The New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, and the like. So, does that mean these websites are actually getting less hits?

According to audience measurement company Quantcast, BuzzFeed receives more web traffic than The New York Times, landing numbers 12 and 44, respectively, on the Top 100 list of most frequently visited websites in the world. The list shows BuzzFeed receiving over 64 million views per month, while The New York Times has only 23 million views per month. Simply put, articles on BuzzFeed attract more readers because their targeted audience practically lives on the Internet. Therefore, they create interesting pieces that will undoubtedly get any young adult's attention. These pieces usually have many of the same qualities: They're conversational, short, humorous, and often cynical, just the way people like them.

Predictably, this conclusion has forced me to deeply consider exactly what kind of writer I want to be. I enjoy writing BuzzFeed-like articles because it's a creative challenge, plus these articles usually get a lot of attention from the student body. They’re also backed with solid, numeric facts that reveal the types of articles the majority of web surfers are reading, so why wouldn't I want to continue producing this kind of work? When BuzzFeed and other similar entertainment platforms are more popular than The New York Times among the majority of users on the Internet, it's sometimes hard to stay motivated to step outside the realm of writing a fluffy and LOL-worthy article.

Since I've started writing for The Galleon, I've learned that it’s absolutely necessary to branch out of my comfort zone. I realize that it’s just as important to take on subjects that discuss matters deeper than Fuller House or how not having an iPhone changes your life. While BuzzFeed and similar sites are bringing in the most readers, they aren't always the go-to sites for thoughtful pieces. These websites are divided by a clear thick line: purpose. When crises strike or people are looking to learn more about what's going on in the world around them (instead of looking to learn more about themselves) sites like The New York Times are essential.

Delivering serious and important news to an audience cannot be done effectively in the light and casual tone we look for on entertainment platforms. Not only would this writing style be inappropriate, but it would also distract readers from the central message and make important subject matter seem commonplace. This is what so often casts people in the same stagnant position as every other mediocre writer on the Internet. While these casual, fun, conversational articles may get more views than those that actually present substantial content, they leave little to no lasting impact on your readers. And if your work doesn't provoke something from your readers, how will you ever be distinguished and remembered as a writer?

From my experience, I've gathered that writers shouldn't always aim at one specific audience; sometimes, the message in itself is more important than making people laugh or feel at ease when they're reading. Learning to find a balance between the two is, by far, one of the most challenging tasks I have tackled since I've started writing.

Over time, particularly in the last few months, I've realized that being a good writer requires having a diverse set of skills that can only be acquired through continuous practice. Like I said, when it comes to this "business" or whatever you want to call it, I'm really lucky. While those blogs, social media sites, and online publications may be viewed as an online diary for many, these virtual elements also allow for aspiring writers like myself to grow and develop their own voice.

So, if you're pursuing a career that’s communication/writing-focused, remember that you’re living in a time where people can appreciate different styles and different voices that can deliver a wide range of content. And that in and of itself is enough encouragement to just keep typing.

Morgan Harper is a Junior English for Corporate Communications major at Christian Brothers University and a staff writer at the Galleon. 

Posted by Josh Colfer at 2:04 PM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

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