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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?

Dealing with sources

Always remain polite and professional when dealing with sources, readers and other stakeholders (PR, advertising clients). At times a firm hand is called for when dealing with sources (where one evokes a stronger tone or uses a more direct line of questioning) however this does not mean one should disrespect, belittle or swear at anyone.

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.

If a reader or source raises a concern about anything in the article, consider the use of a note in italics and with an asterisk (Editor’s note) at the footer of the story (at the very foot, under any other items – such as Feature image). Keep this as brief as possible and include the date of when the note was included.

Example 1:
Editor’s note: Murless on 25 August 2017 subsequently told Ventureburn in an email however that the IP wasn’t created in South Africa as the two technical partners who built the app are based in Europe. He added that the reason for having a Delaware holding company was to facilitate investment by US investors.

Example 2:
Editor’s note (28 March 2018): Webber Wentzel’s Aalia Manie and Silicon Cape chairperson Silicon Cape chairperson Sumarie Roodt subsequently wrote to Ventureburn to take issue with a number of statements they were each quoted as saying.

Roodt claims she was “misquoted” when she told Ventureburn that she had not seen any difference following the changes to exchange control approval made last year. She said Ventureburn had neglected to add that she is not “intimately involved” with exchange control regulations and therefore had referred Ventureburn to source comment from those such as Manie, who are more in the know. (Note continues for several more paragraphs)

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.

Example:
Correction: In the initial version of this article, we incorrectly referred to SingularityU Cape Town as “Singularity University Cape Town”. We regret the error.

Updates

In the case of very important updates, that change the meaning of the story – these should be included at the top (or header) of the story, before the beginning of the story itself. Less critical updates can be included in an editor’s note at the footer of the story, with the date the update was made included as such.

Example of first instance (at header):
UPDATE (19 November 2018): Shopin co-founders Jeremy Harkness and Divakar Rayapaty appear to have taken control of the company, after removing SA entrepreneur Eran Eyal as CEO and replacing him with an interim head. “Please have confidence that we have not stopped working and we will continue to forge ahead to bring the Shopin product to the market,” Harkness and Rayapaty said in a statement released today, on 5 September (see here).

Example of second instance (at footer):
Editor’s note (16 November 2018): An earlier version of this article stated that Proparco will deploy the €50-million in 2019. Proparco communication’s adviser Romain Esperon subsequently told Ventureburn the €50-million will not all be deployed next year.

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.

Ethics: on or off the record?

It is usual practice for journalists to treat all “off the record” conversations as such. If the journalist is not sure whether a source has indeed given them something off or on the record, they should not be afraid to ask them whether this is “on the record”. When you continue talking, be sure to ask whether what they are now saying is “off” or “on the record”.

At times sources may ask that “you not publish” certain details. We are not necessarily beholden to such requests (we don’t work for them). It depends on how important the relationship is with such a source and your relationship with them. It also depends on the kind of information they don’t want you to publish (as yet). For instance: they may ask that you withhold the name of a certain individual or company. If in your view including the name will make it a stronger story, you should include the name.

Ethics: When is a gift a bribe?

As a journalist one often receives any amount of gifts. At times these are mere tokens of appreciation. But many such gifts can be construed in one way or other as bribes. The Guardian newspaper’s advice to its journalists on this issue is a good guide: If a gift cannot be consumed within 24 hours, then there is a potential that it can be viewed as a bribe.

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

  • Never start a sentence with a numeral – write it out instead (eg: 11 birds were killed yesterday – should be: Eleven birds were killed yesterday.
  • 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 as a currency, it should also be hyphenated for ease-of-readability, i.e. $22-billion.
  • Currency: we use symbol $33 and not US$33, 33 US dollars, or simply $. Use symbols only for: rand (R), pound (£), euro (€) and dollar ($). Write out all other currencies, eg: 22 million yen, 10 roubles, 100 Brazilian reals, 6 million rupees. Also, it’s the Rand and the Dollar (when using “the”), otherwise it’s nine rand, hundreds of dollars.
  • 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 nine. 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). Note the difference between percent and percentage point. For example: the interest rate moved up one percentage point, gross domestic product was up 4.5% over last year.

Pictures

  • Max pic size is approximately 1600px wide by 900px high. In the event that 1600×900 images can’t be found, 800px wide and 450px high is acceptable.
  • 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 and commercial use is allowed. Additionally, referencing images follow this format:
    • Feature image: User via Website (specified edits made, type of licence) [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.
  • Image attribution also applies to images used from stock photo websites that don’t require attribution, such as Pixabay.
  • Captions and image attribution for featured image: the house style is that this appear at the footer (the very end of the article) in italics. Best is to name who is in the photograph and where and when the photo was taken, if it is of an event or specific news incident. For example: Featured image: French President Emmanuel Macron speaking at the Viva Technology summit, held in Paris last week (AFD_en via Twitter).

Links

  • In each article it is customary to link the main organisations about which the story is (such as the organisation running the competition or accelerator or the startup that has just clinched funding). Hyperlink the name of the company or organisation.
  • If a list of startups is provided in the story, or the story contains the names of various startups, one should endeavour to hyperlink all such names.
  • Hyperlink reports (to the report itself or page on which the report can be downloaded). If the link opens up a PDF it is best to name this, to alert any reader who may have any limited bandwidth. For example: xxxx (opens as PDF).

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 – but try to avoid it (it doesn’t look pretty).
  • 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.
  • No brackets in headlines – except when using tags such as “Q&A”, “Updated”, “Exclusive” etc. In this case, square brackets should be used.
  • When abbreviating monetary amounts you can use the abbreviation “k” for 1000 and “m” for million, as follows: R7m, R7k. Don’t use k for anything other than for monetary amounts.

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.
  • When referring to dates use “he said on Friday”, “she said on Wednesday” rather than “Julia said Wednesday”, “Bush said Friday”

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. Some commonly used abbreviations don’t need to be written out, eg: AI, IoT, VR, AR, API, VoIP, UN and EU.
  • 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). Except in some circumstances: TIA.
  • 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. SA, not S.A
  • Use US not USA
  • No need to write out very common abbreviations such as UN (never “United Nations” in brackets afterwards) and EU.
  • When a colon is used in a headline, the next word is lowercase.
  • We also use sentence case for headline.

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.
  • Use “about” and not “approximately” or “around”, to indicate a figure that isn’t exact.
  • Use “more than” rather than “above”, to signify is an amount is above a certain figure.
  • Be careful with the use of the word “admit” as it could signify an admission of guilt. Use the word “said” instead.
  • Similarly, the words “according to”, suggests a sense of doubt over whether something is factual or not — or it expresses an opinion where what is stated is not an obvious fact. If it is a fact, rather use “said”. For instance: According to Knife Capital partner Keet van Zyl it’s the biggest deal the VC company has concluded so far SHOULD BE: Knife Capital partner Keet van Zyl said it’s the biggest deal the VC company has concluded so far.
  • When referring to cities always carry the country after it unless you have made it clear that for instance the story is about a Nigerian tech startup (if for example you mention “Lagos”) or South African company (if you were to mention that the firm is based in Johannesburg or Cape Town). Otherwise always mention follow the city by the country eg: Dakar, Sengal or Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The two exceptions are London and New York – as these are two fairly well known cities.
  • Titles: Write them snappy, so: Snapplify CEO John Edmunds rather than, the Snapplify chief executive offiers John Edmunds. No need for comma’s unless it’s a clause, eg: The Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies said xxx BUT, Rob Davies, the minister of trade and industry, said: xxxx
  • Company names: Take out “Pty” (SA) from names of companies, or it’s equivalent in any other language or country (Inc. – US, gmbh – Germany).
  • Use “among” rather than “amongst” 

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.
  • Parliament
  • Facebook’s Timeline is written as one word and capitalised.
  • Demo Day or demo day? If something is part of the name then it should be capped. But if the use of such a term is common (usually when preceded by the article a/an/the or words like “this” or “that”) then it should be written all in lower case – eg: There were 100 participants at Demo Day. – vs: There were 100 participants at the demo day.

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.

Style for Q&As

  • Keep questions as short as possible (if need be apply a slight edit to these when placing them on the site). The best is that they be kept to one line.
  • Questions are placed in bold, answers not.
  • Remove the attribution from both questions and answer (Ventureburn: XXXX – inside just have the question there: XXXX)

Other style issues

  • Remove datelines from stories.

Financial terms and startup terms

  • For revenue use “annual turnover” rather or “annual sales revenue” – the latter is used more in the US.
  • Year-on-year growth – growth from one year to the next
  • Cumulative revenue / growth – the amount that accumulated since a certain date.
  • Equity stake – use “equity stake” rather than “percentage of equity”
  • Portfolio: jargon for investments.
  • Ebitda: Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation. Measures the profitability of companies, especially those dependent on debt financing – according to the Bloomberg style guide. Bloomberg suggests one write the full term out in the text and then explain it.
  • Valuation: A startup will get a valuation of the company done before seeking funding or an acquisition.
  • MVP: minimum viable product
  • Demo Day (capped) – but The demo day
  • Series-A funding, Series-B, Series-C – first, second and third round of funding, respectively. Seed funding rounds usually precede these three.
  • Call – Incubators or accelerators usually put out a “call” when looking for startups to enter a new cohort (new round of a support programme)

Race and gender

  • Don’t use “female” when you can say women, except in certain circumstances: women entrepreneurs, but female entrepreneurship (the person is a “woman” whereas the gender is “female”)
  • Don’t mention race unless it has some bearing on the story – ie the fact that the person was discriminated because of their race, or was a leading black tech entrepreneur in their town etc.
  • Don’t use “previously disadvantaged” when you mean “black”. Don’t use “emerging entrepreneurs” when you mean “black entrepreneurs”.
  • Use “black” when describing South Africans who are: black African, coloured, Indian and/or Chinese South Africans (as per the definition of “black” in the Constitution) in the general sense.
  • Say “black people”, “coloured people” or “white people” rather than “blacks” “coloured” or “whites”
  • Use “black African” to describe people who are black and also African (to distinguish between “black” above and Africans).

Other principles of good writing

Remove word echoes
Word echoes happen when you use the same word twice within the same paragraph or sentence.

For example the words “unemployment” and “rose” are used twice here: German unemployment rose for a fourth month in November, government data showed today. The euro-area unemployment rate rose to a record 12.2%.

Change to: German unemployment rose for a fourth month in November, government data showed today. The euro-area jobless rate climbed to a record 12.2%.

Best to stick to one tense
In most cases either use the past tense (eg: he said, he commented) or present tense (eg: he says, he comments) when using reported speech and attributing quotes. At times it may work having the present tense, for instance “says” in the lead paragraph – to create a sense of immediacy – and then “said” in the remainder of the story.

Eg: Cape Town better watch out, a new startup is in town, says Nutriffic founder George Benson.

Speaking yesterday, Benson said he expects Nutriffic to sell 1000 widgets by March.

Ventureburn specific issues

There are some style issues that are specific to Ventureburn – such as how do we define what a startup is and the use of certain words.

Definition of startups

There is no firm and uncontested definition to define what is a startup and what is not. However in line with how government defines small businesses the world over, the best is to go on three things, namely: the age of the firm, the number of employees and the annual turnover.

  • Age of firm: This is the most difficult to come to agreement on. In India under the government’s Startup India initiative, treats tech startups as firms no older than five years (such firms are allowed to operate tax-free in any three years of their first five years in operation). Startups in India have argued for the government to increase this to seven years. Given that venture capital (VC) companies generally invest in a company for five to seven years before exiting, Ventureburn should loosely define tech startups as firms that are no older than seven years.
  • Number of employees: While it isn’t critical to use this as a judge, it is useful. Startups to an extent are a form of small business (we should be reporting on massive corporate startups owned by listed companies). Small businesses are defined in South Africa under the Small Business Act as those with no more than 50 employees (although this definition can differ depending on which sub-sector a company operates in). The threshold of 50 employees is used in a number of countries to define the upper limit of “small business”.
  • Annual turnover: This is more difficult to go on, as most startups are reluctant to share revenue figures with the media. If one is to go on a figure, one could use the various turnover thresholds of the Small Business Act, or simply the upper limit of the BEE codes for qualifying small enterprises (QSEs) which is presently R50-million at the time of writing this style guide (2018).

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