As a student learning journalism, you are taught that the majority of your future work, be it editing videos, getting the best words from a bland press release, or making an online publication look the best, that the more unnoticeable it is, the better it is.
It may seem a little harsh; putting hours of effort in for nothing, but it’s actually the opposite. If you can edit together a news video so the viewer can’t spot the visual cuts, or write a match report without your audience stopping half-way through to re-read passages, you’ve done a great job, and those that matter in the industry will notice.
The other side of the coin, however, is creating a lasting impression. As a writer or journalist, either in print, online or any other method, the important person in your life isn’t a spouse or parent, but in fact someone you will never meet. This person has no obligation to read what you have created. They couldn’t care how close you were to the deadline, or how many words your sub trimmed off the end. They will stop reading your words in a heartbeat, given half a chance. They’re called the reader.
So, therein lies the rub: create something that is instantly memorable for the majority, who may only remember it (and you) for the reasons you don’t want them to. That’s if you can get them to read it in the first place. It’s fine if you’ve a famous name to attach to your work, but what if you’re a run-of-the-mill hack?
There are a few ways around this; controversy is the first that springs to mind. If you want to get someone’s attention, argue that black is blue, or share your thoughts on something that will definitely rile your readership. If you’ve ever read anything by Jeremy Clarkson, you’ll probably understand this, although there’s a more recent example – everyone now knows the name Samantha Brick, after her Daily Mail column claimed everyone hated her because of her looks. The view count for the article must have reached into the six-figure mark.
But controversy, as fun as it is, doesn’t really apply to the run-of-the-mill hack, writing their 250-word match report of Heybridge Swifts vs. Waltham Forest for the Maldon Gazette. If you need to make yourself memorable, either for the articles sake, future stories, career opportunities, or just to massage your own ego, how do you do it?
One method that has always struck me is the byline, and the air of mystery that comes with having initials in place of your full name. The history would suggest it was to remove gender-related barriers, or as a more formal way of introducing the author: A. A Milne, J. M. Barrie, J.R.R Tolkien. The fascination in reading these names on book covers even spread to cricketers, such as W.G. Grace and more recently, V.V.S. Laxman or AB de Villiers. They almost become less of a name, and more like a brand.
You can probably tell how fond of initials I am, considering my own appear on my business cards, the URL of this blog, as well as my twitter username. However, as I’m new in the industry, and only recently has my work started to appear on creditable websites and publications, I’m yet to ask anyone to call me anything other than Andrew. It would annoy me to have my name misspelt, as this article covers, so I’m leaning towards using initials in the future.
Is it pretentious? Probably. Considering I’ve name-dropped some brilliant historical authors in this post – the idea my own name could rank among them would suggest I have ideas way above my station. But the idea behind using A.D. Winn was to generate attention; if the quality of your work can back it up, pretentiousness shouldn’t matter, should it?
I suppose if this idea fails, I could always write an article about my looks affecting my popularity. They always seem to go down well…