I had the gut-wrenching task of editing raw footage ranging from ISIS attacks, bombings in Syria, and mass shootings for global broadcasts.
While heavily gruesome, I was the messenger making the unseen and unfathomable tragedies visible to millions.
My co-workers’ gasps from peering over my shoulder supported the all-caps warning, “VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED” atop my final edit.
Now, the finishing touch: in 140 characters write something to make outsiders care enough to click “play."
Unfortunately, in this world spiraling with billions of text, articles, and phrases, you only have one option:
The best possible sentence.
Here’s the reality-- it doesn’t matter if the context is about humanitarian aid or a catastrophic crisis; if it’s not engaging the story is dead on arrival.
Stories dealing with global crisis can’t afford this fate because the solution or call-to-action is often in the details.
After all, this led the same Americans who couldn’t spot Syria on a map to care enough about Aleppo to call their State Representatives to act.
So, what's the trick to making readers care about mass atrocities happening on the other side of the world?
1. Learn what your audience doesn’t know
Social media has given us the ability to grasp what's on everyone's mind. A simple Facebook search shows the opinions of Generation Xers to Baby Boomers on almost everything. Let's say you're writing a piece about human trafficking in Southeast Asia for a U.S. audience. Clicking on a widely-shared and credible post on this topic outlines the trolls, the compassionate, the ill-compassioned, and the dazed and confused. All individually categorized (via Facebook profile) by their age, location, education, and even occupation. Notice any patterns? Take those findings and head on over to the next step.
2. Debunk the myth
Most people’s findings show this: a.) people don't know the amount impacted b.) people underestimate the seriousness c.) people genuinely don’t care about that side of the world. Here's how to flip the script and engage your reader through a headline. For the first point, quantify those affected in the first word of the headline: “Millions Illegally Rounded up by Boat for Trafficking.” Paint a picture of the harsh reality if your topic is heavily underestimated: “Visible Whiplashing Imprinted on Children.” And lastly, use an interesting fact to hit close to home with your readers: “America’s #1 Clothing Manufacturer Rifled with Human Trafficking.
3. Play up the numbers
The most compelling piece of any story is in the numbers. To save your content from sounding like a research paper, always stress how big, how many, and how much without relying solely on digits. For example, a crowd of people crammed into ten rafts doesn’t do enough as three football fields of people crowded into ten rafts. When concerning money, traffickers’ pocketing double Spain’s GDP sounds stronger than saying traffickers profit $3 trillion globally.
Now take this knowledge and go save the world.