• BURN MEDIA
    • Motorburn
      Because cars are gadgets
    • Gearburn
      Incisive reviews for the gadget obsessed
    • Ventureburn
      Startup news for emerging markets
    • Jobsburn
      Digital industry jobs for the anti 9 to 5!

Memeburn Style Guide

Please consistently follow these guidelines when writing for Memeburn. Any questions, queries or additions — email us at info@memeburn.com.

Writing Principles

Accuracy
What we write should always be true and factual.

Surprise!
We operate in a news environment where we talk about things we did not know before that needs to surprise our readers.

Show then tell
Statements need to be supported by figures and anecdotes available independently from us and offered from an original source.

Proudly South African
Although we think globally, our stories need to speak to an African audience.

Questions we should always answer:
What happened? Why did this happen? How is this impacting our world or tech-space? Why should we care?

Our ethics

We strive to always be balanced, fair and accurate in our reporting and news decisions. We will always set aside any personal biases and will never deceive and mislead with our reporting. Because we hold others accountable for disclosure, we expect the same of ourselves. While disclosing errors of judgment may be embarrassing, the sooner the lapses are reported; the sooner there is nothing more to say. We are in the often-difficult position of reporting on our clients. Altering a story because it embarrasses a company or individual would create the perception that we shade our news judgment under pressure, and that would cost us our integrity. When exposing the wrongdoing of others, we should be above reproach. Efforts at contacting subjects will always be transparent and verifiable. We will always give subjects the opportunity to deny or comment on our reporting. We do this as we realise that the greater a story’s impact, the greater our obligation to withstand the most exacting scrutiny.

Corrections

We own up to mistakes and correct them quickly and completely. Fudging a correction hurts the credibility of the organisation. Never delete a story without first correcting a mistake.

Libel

A good journalist is motivated by fairness and has an inner sense for identifying and avoiding defamation. If it makes you think for even the briefest second, “Wow, that’s bad,” it may be potentially libelous. Check with the rest of the team before publishing in such a situation.

Endorsements

We aim not to endorse any goods or services other than in a review. We will attend events and conferences without paying only when credentialed and only for the purpose of writing or researching a story. We will never obtain discounts, food, lodging, preferential treatment or other consideration based solely on our status as journalists.

Plagiarism

We are legally and ethically obliged to respect the intellectual property of other news organisations and to be honest about our news-gathering. The capital crime in journalism is plagiarism, the act of copying another’s work without attribution. Disciplinary action will be taken when found guilty of plagiarism. Always credit original reporting to those who did the legwork, and never reproduce quotes made to others as if we heard them ourselves. Press summaries must cite the publication that did the reporting and explain the attribution used in the original story.

While facts are in the public domain, the selection and arrangement of those facts may constitute creative expression, which can be protected by copyright. Our work should add value through independent analysis.

Reporting

We report on everything we read, listen to and see. In doing that we become experts on the subjects we report on. We prepare for interviews, we record everything we see and hear, we follow stories relentlessly and we collect documents and links to the stories that interest us.

Accuracy

We check all names, facts and locations. We know where every fact in a story comes from and should include hyperlinks whenever possible to those facts. We strive to use primary sources which include interviews conducted by the individual who writes the story; official documents obtained by the individual; and company and organization websites.

The 4 W’s

Who, what, why and sometimes so what: these are the questions our stories should answer.

  • Who: the individual(s) or company that this story is about
  • What: The key information this story provides pertaining to the who
  • Why: Explain the new information: why is what happening to who
  • So what: Often new information is more newsworthy than the why. When this is the case, the main objection of a story should be to mention what is at stake. The purpose should always be to explain why news matters.

Ingredients to our stories

Playing in a field where there is often too much information available, we should provide the details others fail to identify.

That being said, it is important to identify for our readers what the key piece(s) of information to the news is that will attract their attention.

We should always strive to find an original source and quote them to provide credibility to our story.

Explain first what the story is before providing context.

Headlines

Asking “what’s the headline” helps leads the focus with these elements:

  • Names: Should ideally be first especially when it’s a noteworthy individual
  • Surprise: If news is a surprise, a headline should provoke curiosity
  • Conflict: Framing a headline around an action draws attention
  • This is, Here is, How …: Headlines can be used to give ‘direction’

Lead paragraph

A lead paragraph and a lead sentence should capture the theme of our stories: what the news is and why it’s important. If stories are about people, we should name them. The same goes for companies. Names make news.

Nut paragraph

More than rewriting a press release, we need to tell our readers why a new product is important for the company in question, the company’s track record, its outlook, reaction to the news. A nut paragraph tells us why we need to care about a new development, giving perspective to a news event.

A nut paragraph can come from answering one or all of these questions: What’s at stake? What’s the biggest event in the life of this company/person? Who will be hurt/benefit? Better or worse?

  • What captures a story’s “sweep” – that is, its context, relevance, importance, significance?
  • Are you writing about a first, a record, a significant milestone?
  • Is your story part of a trend? Explain it and give examples.

Details

Use news judgment to determine what details are important and what can be kept out. But remember to include:

  • Attribution: Always let the reader know how you know what you know (interview / release / e-mail)
  • People: Names make news
  • Time: when did this happen
  • Location: where something happened

Check and check again.

Examine all sides and present your stories with neutral verbs.

Writing well

Write with the idea that you are telling a story to friends. When in doubt, listen to George Orwell:

  • Never use a long word when a short one will do
  • If you can cut a word, cut it out
  • Never use the passive when you can use the active
  • Prefer the specific to the abstract word
  • Words are special, treat them with reverence

Sources

Always try to get an original source, instead of rewriting what you read elsewhere. Find the statement from the individual or company if that wasn’t e-mailed to you or you weren’t present when X or Y was said. Always link to the source when available online. When there is a competitor who breaks news on information we don’t have, we must make our audience aware even if we can’t verify its accuracy right away. When interviewing anonymous sources, we need to seek to verify their authenticity.

Examples

When from a statement: the company said in a statement (with a link)

If from an interview always provide location or circumstances: said in an interview via e-mail

Before you read the style guide, we just have one more thing we’d like to say: One of the hallmarks of good writing is context. Make sure you contextualise items, places, companies, people you refer to even though it may seem obvious to you. You are writing for a global, varied audience — don’t just refer to “Mxit” and expect all to know what you are talking about. Tell readers it’s a South African-based instant messenger and social network. Tell them that First National Bank is a South African Bank or that Mocality is a mobile business directory for Africa. This even applies to big companies that you think are fairly well-known. Google for instance, could be referred to as a Silicon Valley-based internet giant. Do the same with online jargon (ROI, CPC, SEO, ORM, SERPs, etc). Wikipedia works particularly well for this — look it up and link to it if you don’t want to have to explain it in full. Remember not everyone knows about what you are talking about and there are readers all over the world reading your piece!

Regular terms

If you use two words as a descriptor, they are hyphenated, e.g.:

  • fast-moving truck
  • high-flying executive
  • quick-dry paint
  • non-slip flooring
  • music-streaming service
  • height-adjusted

Numbers

  • Numerals between 1-9 are written as words, i.e. “one”, “two”, “three”, except in headlines.
  • Numerals 10 and up are written as numerals: 10, 25, 32 etc
  • Thousands and tens of thousands have spaces 1 000, 10 000, 23 456 etc
  • Millions, billions, and trillions are written out as words, etc. When placed alongside a number, it should also be hyphenated for ease-of-readability, i.e. 22-billion.
  • Currency we use symbol US$33 and not 33 US dollars, or simply $. Also R, Z$, £, €, etc.
  • Date format: 24 May 1999. We do not use: May, 24 or etc. – day./month/year.
  • Book names, article titles and movie names in italics
  • Percent is written out between one and ten. Thereafter the % symbol is used (eg. 45% of Android users own a bicycle, but only five percent own a house). If there is a fraction involved, it stays in numeric format (eg. 4.5% not four point five percent).

Pictures

  • Max pic is approximately 800px wide and 430px high. On image-heavy Gearburn however, we strive for high quality 1600px by 900px images.
  • Contributor images are 150×180 pixels.
  • Smaller images (below 800px width) are always centered. Embedded clips should also be 750px wide.

Referencing pictures in articles:

  • When referencing from Flickr, ensure that the image is under a Creative Commons license. Additionally, referencing images follow this format:
    • Feature image: User via Website (Note: “User” is hyperlinked back to the content’s origin).
  • If you’re planning to use an image from Instagram, a personal Twitter account or any other social network, do ask for permission first. It’s only right.
  • References for feature images are also placed at the bottom of the article. In-text image references are placed below the respective images.

Headlines and Bios

  • Bio length max = 200 words.
  • No line breaks in bios.
  • Links in text open in new windows (target=”new” etc).
  • Max headline length is 55 characters with spaces (i.e. 2 lines at most on display).
  • Ideal is to aim for 1 line or 2 full lines (avoid the odd word slipping onto line 2), never 3 lines. If it’s 4 lines you will be shot. If 5 lines you will be banned from the internet forever.
  • Make headlines pop. Be funny and clever, but be sure to accurately reflect the gist of the article.
  • You can abbreviate government as govt (no fullstop) in a headline.
  • We don’t generally use “and” or “&” in a headline, but if you’re listing more than three items, it’s applicable. The other exception is for Q&A’s and when a company name has “&” in it.

Americanisms

We use South African English, and not American English. So while “braai” and “biltong” are just fine, “aluminum” and “thru” are not. More examples:

  • Monetise not monetize.
  • Centre not center.
  • When referring to computer software use program, for anything else programme is correct.
  • However if the Americanism is part of proper name, then leave it as American spelling.

Punctuation and abbreviations

  • All abbreviations are written out after first usage, thereafter used as abbreviation, so you would write World of Warcraft (Wow) in the first instance, then Wow thereafter.
  • If you can say the word (e.g. ‘Wow’) then you capitalise the first letter in the abbreviation. If you have to spell out the letters verbally, you have to capitalise them all when you write them down (MP3, URL, PPC, CRM, etc).
  • Use double quotations in the body of article (“), and single quotes (‘) in the headline when appropriate.
  • We do hyphens by using two hyphens together. (–)
  • No dots between acronyms. USA, not U.S.A
  • When a colon is used in a headline, the next word is lowercase.
  • We also use sentence case for headlines.

Words

  • Amount vs. Number: Amount refers to a quantity, number to something that can be counted, eg “an enormous amount of energy was exerted by a small number of people”.
  • Cellphones we use as one word. Same with smartphones.
  • ecommerce we write with a small e and c. Also, ebooks and ereaders. eSports is the glaring exception to this rule.
  • We refer to ourselves as Memeburn online, and Memeburn.com offline.
  • Mxit, with a small “x”.
  • Startup. One word, not hyphenated. Also applicable to microblogging.
  • We use internet, not Internet.
  • It’s YouTube not You Tube.
  • That’s WordPress to you, not Word Press.
  • It’s “Atagana” or “Thomas”, not “Ms Atagana” or “Mr Thomas”.
  • Voice over Internet Protocol is written as VoIP, not VOIP.
  • As for Twitter, it’s upper case “T” for the company name, lower case “t” when used as a verb or noun.
  • Touchscreen is one word not two.
    Capitals:
  • Titles are capitalised, but not job description, eg President Barack Obama (but the US president, Barack Obama, and Obama on subsequent mention); Senior Vice President of Social for Google Vic Gondutra; Pope Benedict XVI but the pope.
  • Facebook’s Timeline is written as one word and capitalised.

Plurals

  • Individual Companies are referred to in the singular eg. “Google has announced it will be changing search as we know it.”
  • One BlackBerry, many BlackBerrys.

More in

Read More »