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My Suggestions to Vocal

TL;DR - tell us why some pieces make Top Story; a request for private comments

By L.C. SchäferPublished 7 days ago 4 min read
My Suggestions to Vocal
Photo by saeed karimi on Unsplash

Suggestion Numero Uno: Tell us why pieces make Top Story!

I do sometimes look at a Top Story and wonder how it got there. I know others think the same sometimes. Probably about my stuff at times.

How on earth did he get there? We may never know.

That's not to say I begrudge it - I just want to know what Vocal saw in it that I missed. If it's good enough to be on the front page, it's good enough for someone to spend a sentence or so to tell us why.

I understand that the Vocal team don't want to spell out too baldly what they look for in a Top Story piece. Not least because people would just start churning out formulaic crap. Then how would Vocal curate it? Tighten the criteria? What, and then tell us - again - and have the same happen?

No, Vocal have given us enough of a hint here.

I want them to approach it from the other angle. Tell us why each piece made it to the front page. Just a short blurb, but specific. What earned it that recognition? Heck - even if that is just a comment on the piece itself from Vocal.

My daughter used to come home from primary school with stickers for this, and gold stars for that, and an award for something else. I would say, "And why did you get that?" She'd shrug and say, "dunno".

What was the point then?

How could she feel proud of her accomplishment if she didn't know what it was? Were she a naughty child (she wasn't), how could her behaviour be positively impacted? That's like me giving my dog a treat because she did a perfect down-stay three hours ago, or yesterday, or last week. She likes the treat, sure, maybe she even deserves it. But she doesn't make the connection. It has no bearing on her future down-stays.

What is the point of praise and accolades (or criticism for that matter) if it's vague?

Show your work

"Top Story" is in danger of becoming meaningless, if it isn't already... because no one really knows what they are being awarded for.

Yes, I understand why some complain about it. I also understand why others might be tired of the complaints about it. But there is room for complaints and negative speculation precisely because of the lack of specifics.

I've often been surprised that an excellent piece by another writer didn't get T.S. Sometimes the pieces on the front page are shockingly poor (some of mine included).

This also applies without comparing yourself to others - just by looking at your own work. I bet you are as surprised as I am sometimes by which of your stories Vocal chooses to elevate, and which ones it ignores.

Why did my Oppenheimer critique get the award - what, just because I mentioned piss? Why did my East of the Sun get T.S. - I see it riddled with flaws? Why did Glass Dolls never get T.S. or place in a challenge, while The Future Tree - utter jumbled cack by comparison, surely - got Runner Up?

Maybe some people are sore about working hard and feeling sidelined. Maybe they believe they have a piece more deserving of recognition than ones that actually got it. Maybe they are right. But I remind myself that sifting through the sheer volume of published pieces to find ones worthy of the front page is a gargantuan task. I don't envy it.

Darryl Hannah as Elle Driver in Kill Bill Vol 2

I sit, like my daughter with yet-another Headteacher's Award, ignorant of what I did that stood out positively.

Maybe it comes down to taste, which there is no accounting for.


Suggestion Numero... Two - Private Comments

Is there a way to make comments private? At least to have it as an option?

Not being someone who builds websites, I have no idea how difficult this would be.

I have been musing (and scribbling) about critique lately. One of the points raised was that no one wants to draw attention to mistakes and flaws in a public way.

Can we have two options when submitting a comment? Public Comment (the default/regular button, just like what we have now) and another one labelled "Suggestion for Improvement" which would submit a comment only visible to the author of the story?

The author could have the option to moderate this comment. Either approve it so it's visible to everyone, or leave it where it is so it's only visible to themselves and the person who wrote it. Or they can turn off "Suggestions" and only receive general comments and encouragement. Their comment section will look just as it does now. (This alone will tell other users what kind of feedback will be useful and welcomed.)

What do you think?


As always - thank you for reading! Please comment so I can reciprocate.

And for those who don't know - TL;DR means "too long, didn't read".


About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

Flexing the writing muscle.

Never so naked as I am on a page. Subscribe for "nudes".

I'm also Twitter if you'd like to connect elsewhere.

I value feedback, and reciprocate reads and comments.

Also writing under the name S.E. Holz

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Comments (33)

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  • Naveed2 days ago

    Super!!! Excellent

  • JBaz4 days ago

    You have every thought that flashes through my tiny brain. I have seen TS riddled with spelling and other errors. I can forgive that if the piece is interesting, but sometimes…. Great stuff

  • Sarah Danaher6 days ago

    Sometimes I wonder about the criteria and would love to have private messages. My last top story was not my best one either. I wish they were more clear.

  • Leslie Writes6 days ago

    You say things we’ve all thought about, but were too shy to ask. 💖 I think your point about volume is the reason these private comments from Vocal are hard to implement, but I agree it would be nice. As for the private suggestions, this is a good one if people use it in good faith. Something like “Hey, I think you used the wrong ‘their’ in the forth sentence of the third paragraph” and not insults like “this sux, try again.” Also people write with different cultural vernaculars and I fear some people might get picked on for that 😔

  • To be honest, I'm tired with the complaints on Top Stories, lol. I mean it has been overspoken about. I used to want to know how Top Stories are chosen. But I'm over that now. If someone gets one, I'm happy for them. If I get one, I'm happy for myself, lol. No offense though, I'm just the kinda person that gets tired with things easily 😅 However, it would be nice for them to provide a blurb on why it made a Top Story. That would be beneficial. I also support the request for private comments for suggestions!

  • Poppy the Poet7 days ago

    Great ideas. Vocal giving at least a sentence explaining why they chose something for top story would definitely be appreciated and useful. I’ve definitely wondered why some of my pieces I considered less good got top story over some I thought were better.

  • Brin J.7 days ago

    “What was the point then?“ Yeah. I asked myself this question at the same time you wrote it. Why reward someone and not explain why. I loved that you used your dog as an example. I studied animal behavior for my Zoology degree, wanting to understand their nonverbal language, and when rewarding, animals NEED to know that connection with the behavior they are being rewarded for, otherwise it just doesn’t register. Once it clicks, they’ll perform the behavior without needing to be told. (Unless there are cues they need to follow). I agree that we, as writers, need to know what we did rightly because a reinforcer isn’t enough to tell us that our writing has improved. Love this discussion. Love that I can engage with things like this 🤗

  • Ahna Lewis7 days ago

    Some great thoughts here! I especially liked the idea of the public / private comment. I often wish there was a way to receive or give useful critique without making it public to everyone. I'm hoping Vocal takes a look at some of your suggestions here!

  • Babs Iverson7 days ago

    With FB messenger, you can send a DM. Private comments can be made;however, when no FB connection, I do not make suggests or mention any missing words/typos in comments. Comments should be positive. Seems that everyone has questioned why that one made it but why didn't this one make T. S.? Besides engagement, showcasing and nominating stories in Discord has resulted in many of the Top Stories on front page. Note: Discord is mentioned in Vocal's article on Transparenty regarding T. S.

  • Hannah Moore7 days ago

    The top stories are very mysterious. Like you, I've read brilliant pieces which aren't and pieces which, well, might merit some supportive critique (and to be fair what wouldn't). At least it means it's something I don't feel the need to aim at because I don't know how yo do that! I think if the author could activate an "open to critique" option, that might be nice.

  • If I see a flaw I dm them on Facebook , I never do it in public, but if the creator doesn't have a facebook or email option then the private comment is a good idea. There are a lot of mine I think should have been Top Stories but just as many where I wonder why they have been Top Stories. Excellent article and probably a Top Story

  • RM Stockton7 days ago

    L.C., Thanks for voicing something we have all pondered. I suppose the simple answer is (to borrow a line from Justice Potter Stewart), “I know it when I see it.” The criteria for a T.S. probably is not entirely definable, but the editors know when they read something that deserves to be promoted. I suppose I have to accept that what appeals to me may not appeal to a broader audience. Still, I agree with your point that sometimes it is perplexing, to say the least, and not just the selection of T.S., but which stories place in a contest and which ones receive no recognition. I do wish there was a way to send DMs or make messages private.

  • Mariann Carroll7 days ago

    I only get Top stories because my story got a lot of comments and reads. It’s really my readers who help me get Top Story .

  • Gerard DiLeo7 days ago

    One of the items missing on that diagram provided in the link is just plain writing excellence. I know engagement and likes hint at that, but excellence should be a thing, right? Just sayin'.

  • Mackenzie Davis7 days ago

    I love the idea of having a blurb for each TS. That would necessitate the curation of it, slow it down, and really hone the vision it’s meant to manifest. Having suggested TS’s is great, but if the team just uses them because they don’t have time to handpick or because they’re popular in the discord or fb groups, it’s not as if they’re choosing according to their criteria. Consistency is key, imo, for something as visible as TS; homepage visibility is really crucial for a newcomer getting the vibe of the platform, so they should represent the cream of the crop. I wonder sometimes at the opinions surrounding what Vocal’s brand actually is. Is it more of a blogging platform? Is it everything all at once (that’s not sustainable)? It seems they’ve gotten more muddled on that front, by allowing suggestions, and ai, and more diversity; which isn’t bad, im not saying that, simply that the vision is getting lost in too many checkboxes. I want to see a strong mission statement for the TS process. Is it curation or pandering (in whatever sense of the word)? Private comments are a superb idea. Especially the moderation aspect. The report function would still exist, presumably, and would be useful for combatting spam and harassment. Perfect idea for critique without going as far as a private message system; I never considered this alternative. Fantastic read, as always!

  • Dana Crandell7 days ago

    I'd love to have a private comment option or direct messaging. Regarding the TS idea, I'm not sure. I agree; it would be nice to know why, but considering the criteria we were given, there should be several reasons a story gets picked. That's assuming, of course, that the process is as transparent as advertised.

  • Kenneth Lawson7 days ago

    I quit paying attention to TS and the latest stories long ago. I also have a couple of Thoughts; 1. What is considered a story? Applearlenty anything that resembles a string of paragraphs about one topic is a story. To my Old Jadded eyes, these are articles or essays if you will, or editorials, either in favor or against a topic. A Story is a narrative of events that happened to a character, or characters, often unexpected or unwilling, or in some way take the characters out of their normal "very day life' and drop them into a mess of some kind. The result is that generally, they are different in some way from the experience. That is NOT what I see in 90% of the content I see here. (it is possible That I'm not seeing everything or looking in the right places.) To be fair, I have seen more of this in the chapters and writing sections that they opened up recently, But even there, there are a lot of articles, some having nothing to do with writing. Your suggestion to put something about what a certain story was chosen to Blessed with Top Story is a good one, along with the private comments. I have other thoughts about Vocal, but I won't bore you with them here.

  • Agree & agree. And if they are relying on algorithms to sift through &/or determine T.S., please just be honest about it. I quit paying attention to them after the umpteenth article demonstrating A.I.

  • Cathy holmes7 days ago

    I love the suggestion for private comments. It's a great idea. As for TS, I agree completely. Especially for my own. Sometimes I write pieces that I'm sure are worthy, but get overlooked. Sometimes I get TS and go huh, really.. that one?

  • “The best we can do is give this article Top Story” – John Vocal

  • I would be fascinated to learn how things got chosen for TS but don’t know how it would work 🤔 I’d love to know why the ones of mine that got chosen did so.

  • Mother Combs7 days ago

    Great suggestions. I agree, I want more than a gold star, I want a why also

  • Matthew Fromm7 days ago

    Love the suggestions. I also struggle with the “why did this get it but not that?” With my own work and also with others. Plus we’re all here to improve to some degree, help us!

  • We're basically like contestants on Squid Games :)

  • ema7 days ago

    The problem with TS is they are on the homepage. It Is the first thing people see. So readers and other writers can evaluate the site from this and decide to go away or stay. This is the reason why, in my opinion, TS should be dedicated to work of art and not to opinions, lists, suggestions or articles that are like blog posts and not literature. I also think private comments and messages are not very good here, the reason is Vocal shouldn't work as other social media.

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