23 April 2014

How to ask the perfect question

From Jeff Haden at Inc.com:
  1. Limit the actual question to one sentence. Feel free to state the problem or issue in detail, but limit your question to one sentence. "How can we increase productivity?" "How can we improve quality?" "What would you do if you were me?" Sticking to one sentence helps ensure your questions are open ended.
  2. Provide options in the question only if those truly are the only options. But keep in mind those rarely are the only options. The odds you've already thought of everything are pretty slim.
  3. Don't shade the question. You may think you know the answer. Great. Keep that to yourself. Make your questions answer-neutral.
  4. Follow the same principles for follow-up questions. Stay short. Stay open ended. Stay neutral.
  5. Talk as little as possible. You already know what you know. Great questions are designed to find out what the other person knows. So stay quiet and listen. You never know what you'll learn when you ask the right way.

18 April 2014

Need to build a quick vector map? Here are two new tools

From ProPublica:

Today we're releasing code to make it easier for newsrooms to produce maps quickly. Landline is an open source JavaScript library for turning GeoJSON data into browser-based SVG maps. It comes with Stateline, which builds on Landline to create U.S. state and county choropleth maps with very little code out-of-the-box.

We finished the project and wrote documentation as part of last week’s Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Code Convening program (thanks to Github's Jessica Lord for helping out on short notice). We've been using variations of Landline at ProPublica for some time, for example on the front page of our nursing homes app and this voting rights act explainer.

Both should work in nearly every commonly supported browser. The full documentation is over at GitHub, but in a nutshell ...

17 April 2014

'Readers first!': a new definition of Search Engine Optimization

I ask “What is search engine optimization?” often when I give talks. Most of the time I get stares in response. Some people try but give up soon enough. What would you answer? Tell me in the comments BEFORE reading on. 
I have a new definition for the term: 
Search Engine Optimization is creating good content on a web site in the form of pages and posts that real people want to read, which satisfies the query AND can be found by a search engine. In that order. Readers first!

15 April 2014

Four reasons why quality journalism will survive the current apocalypse

There will always be a demand for high-quality news—enough demand to support two or three national newspapers, on papyrus scrolls if necessary. And the truth is that if only two or three newspapers survive, in national or global competition, that will still be more competition than we have now, with our collection of one-paper-town monopolies. 
A second truth is that most newspapers aren’t very good and wouldn’t be missed by anybody who could get The New York Times or USA Today and some bloggy source of local news. 
A third truth is that former roadblocks—people’s refusal to get their content online or to pay for it—are melting away like the snow. 
A fourth truth is that rich foundations and individuals appear downright eager to jump in and supply foreign or other prestige news if newspapers won’t. Former Times executive editor Bill Keller just quit the paper to help start a nonprofit to cover justice issues. Paul Steiger, formerly managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, founded ProPublica—a nonprofit that produces top-quality investigative journalism.

14 April 2014

How to put the 'news' back into your brand stories in just six steps

All too often, I run into a brand story that is written as an essay, when it should be written as straight news.

Rather than starting with a straight news lead, too many brand journalists and other content marketers ease into a story with background they believe will set up the true lead, which they then will bury somewhere between paragraphs four and seven.

These writers never seem to ask themselves: Are readers willing to wade through all this background material to get to the real news we want to share with them? The answer is: No. Nein. Nyet. They won’t do it.

Get a clue, folks:
  • News sells, essays don’t.
  • News websites flourish.  Essay-based sites do not.
  • For more than 150 years, there has been a “news business.” There has never been an “essay business.”
Readers love news. They crave the inside scoop. So give it to them. Tell them a news story about your clients, their brand, their company, their products, their services.  Identify the part of your story that is the news – and get to it, immediately.
So let’s talk about how to do that.

Remember, newswriting is NOT an art. It is a craft. It is a formula. It is designed to allow reporters to write something that is easy to read, and do it very quickly on deadline, and do it while a city editor is breathing down their necks. So don’t overthink it. Generations of news writers have used this formula. It works.

Step 1: Find the news peg.

Go through your notes from your interviews with your company's subject-matter experts. Find the thing that is happening right now, or will happen relatively soon. Look for the time element that answers the question, “When did or will this happen?” That’s a good indicator that you have found the news peg.

If you can’t find the time element, go back to your sources and dig for one. Ask your subject-matter experts, “When in your next big milestone?” or “When was your most recent milestone?”  A milestone is a significant development or accomplishment in life of a brand, a company, or a product. But it doesn't have to earthshattering.  Really, it just has to be both interesting and timely.

Step 2: Build your lead around the peg

Take the “when,” and start adding the “who, what and where. “ Use the active voice. Keep it simple and basic.  Here are three leads from recent news stories found on the BBC News web site. I’ve boldfaced the peg for each one:
  • Asian markets ended Friday's session lower as investors took their cue from the US and dumped technology stocks.
  • Several chimpanzees briefly escaped their enclosure at Kansas City Zoo on Thursday.
  • US Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning following the problematic launch of President Barack Obama's healthcare law, US media report.
“But those are real news stories,” I can hear some of you scream at me. “I’m writing brand stories for corporate clients. They're not the same.”

Of course they are. News is news.

Before I moved into copywriting and public relations, I worked as a business reporter, covering financial services: banks, credit unions, stock brokerages, accounting firms, bond brokers, sub-prime lenders, and such.  I couldn’t afford to wait for these companies to come to me with stories. Most of them wouldn’t know a story if it raised its hand and coughed.
So my approach was: Choose a local company, give them a call and set up a meeting with a top officer. It could be a lunch, or a facility tour, or just a sit-down in the office. I’d let them give me all the background they wanted to give me, carefully listening for anything interesting: an emerging product, an unusual strategy, a coming location, a newly identified market segment … you get the idea. And once I heard anything like that, I started asking questions. My first was always: “How soon does that happen?” Then: “Do you think that’s something your folks are willing to talk about for my column?”

Why those questions? If I didn’t have a time element, then I didn’t have a news peg, and thus I had no news to tak back to my readers.  Also, if the company wasn’t ready to talk about that idea, there was no point wasting time on it right now. I could file away the idea for later, when the company might be ready, but for now the job was to dig for something I could use immediately.

Only when I had an interesting idea attached to a news peg, and a willing company ready to tell me the full story, did I move forward. Here are some of the leads that came out of that process; again, I’ve boldfaced the news peg for each story:
  • Community Credit Union plans to roll out 11 new Metroplex locations over the next 30 months, using a fast, inexpensive expansion technique pioneered by banks but never used before by a Texas credit union.
  • TownBank N.A. is breaking ground on a 10,000-square-foot headquarters at 1522 Gross Road near Interstate 635 in Mesquite, just a block from the bank's current location in a small strip center.
  • Mayflower Capital L.L.C. is launching its third venture capital fund, aiming to raise $50 million to reinvest in a portfolio of emerging companies across the nation.
  • At age 3, Dallas National Bank is enjoying a growth spurt.
  • Flush with $26.5 million in new capital from private investors, Texas Capital Bancshares Inc. is planning to use about 75% of that to power its red-hot Internet bank toward an initial public offering.
  • The World Indoor Soccer League says it's ready to sell exclusive rights for a corporate sponsor to attach the sponsor's name to the WISL brand name.
Note that in most of these leads, I’m vague about exactly “when” each will happen.  I got more specific later on in each story, but I wanted my leads to sound as close to “right now” as I could get them.  That’s why I used verb phrases like “plans to roll out” and “says it’s ready,” to bring the action as close to the present as possible.  Readers want to know what’s happening now. Find a way to give them that feeling, even if it’s an illusion. Trust me, they won’t notice the illusion.

This is a process I continue to use today with my clients. Try it. You will be amazed how a news approach will help you take what appears to be mundane corporate dreck and transmute it into gold. 

Step 3: Look for the “why and how” to flesh out the lead, and use them to build the second and third paragraphs.

For example, here’s the second paragraph from the Community Credit Union story:

Community will open the locations inside new or remodeled Albertson's supermarkets in Carrollton, Lewisville, Garland and other cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. These "in-store locations" cost about a tenth as much to build as standard brick-and-mortar locations.

If you have a solid quote, work it into the third paragraph.  A good quote introduces a human actor, and readers like that. It keeps them in the story. For example:

"There's no doubt we're the first credit union in Texas to do this," says Gary Base, the credit union's president and CEO. "There may be 20 to 25 credit unions in the entire nation that have at least one in-store location. The most they've got is three locations. We're committed to 11. No credit union has tried the in-store approach on this scale.”

Step 4: Arrange the remaining paragraphs into the inverted pyramid.

Once you get past the first three paragraphs, you are just arranging information by what you think is most important for the reader to know. This is the inverted pyramid.

Sometimes the best approach is to just type up your notes into clean, clear paragraphs – and then worry about the order. That’s the joy of cutting and pasting with Microsoft Word.  It’s a much easier process than the old days, when we wrote on clunky Royal typewriters

Step 5: When you are done, stop.

Don’t look to summarize, as you would in an essay. When you reach the last useful fact, don’t get clever or reflective. Just stop writing. Really. Just stop.

Step 6: Write the headline.

It’s bad enough when writers bury their leads. But when they compound the problem by writing lazy headlines, they really should be fired.

The point of the headline is to entice the reader to actually read the lead. The point of the lead is to entice the reader to read the second paragraph. And so on, until the story ends.
If you start with a crappy headline, you lose.

Writing a news headline is simple, but rarely easy. Aim to boil down your lead paragraph into eight to 12 words, while keeping the focus on the news peg. If you’ve written a solid lead, the headline should almost write itself. If you struggle with the headline, the problem may be that your lead sucks, and you need to take another crack at it.

A lot of reporters write a headline before they write the lead. Doing so helps them focus their thoughts as they construct the lead. If that works for you, go for it.

When you are stuck: Go to the BBC News web site, and just read leads and headlines until you feel you’ve got the swing of it. Then go back to your own story. When in doubt, ape the BBC. They are the best news writers in the world: http://www.bbc.com/news/

11 April 2014

The perfect story pitch: a 12-point formula

From Matthew Barby at Find My Blog Way:

As a general rule, all of the content pitches that I craft will adhere to the following guidelines:
  1. The body of the email mustn’t exceed 190 words.
  2. The email must addresses the recipient by their name.
  3. It must give a very brief intro into who I am and who my client is (if I’m pitching on their behalf).
  4. The pitch section should get straight to the point of what the content is and take up no more than two paragraphs.
  5. Never send over the content in the pitch email. Wait until you’ve had the go ahead from them.
  6. If the content is very complex, use bullet points to get the idea across in a short way.
  7. Give an emotional hook for the recipient to want more information.
  8. Every pitch should be unique and add a personal touch if possible.
  9. Explain how publishing the content will be mutually beneficial.
  10. I should have a good understanding of what the recipient publishes to ensure that the content is completely relevant to them.
  11. Email subject should be no longer than 55 characters and should encompass the content idea within it.
  12. Get straight to the point and don’t use buzzwords!

10 April 2014

3 ways your brand can get more from the ‘slowest medium’

From Michael Wayne, CEO of KIN, via CommPRO:

In a recent interview,  Buzzfeed’s Jonah Perritti paints a picture of a media consumption continuum: Twitter is on one side with ‘very fast’ consumption of ‘of the moment’ content. Facebook is in the middle with ‘relatable’ content that has ‘broad human emotion’, and Pinterest is at the other end with ‘slower’ content that takes time to organize, consume and use.  …

So then where does online video – YouTube, MCNs and creators – fit into the continuum? I would argue that this is the ‘slowest’ medium. Audiences have to watch videos (time); get to know creators and subscribe (more time); and build relationships with them (even more time) – all before cooking a recipe or trying a new make-up look. …

Here are a few ways brands can embrace Slow Media:

  • True Advocacy. Advocate for things YouTube creators care about and they will advocate for your brand. If you support them in honest and meaningful ways, they will ultimately champion your brand to their audiences.
  • Share the Same Values. More often than not, a channel with the most engaged audience is going to perform better than just a “big” channel with the most subscribers and views. Engaged audiences want to feel like the advertiser has the creators’ best interest in mind and shares the same value.
  • Participate in the Platform. YouTube should be a part of your social media strategy, just like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Participating in the platform will allow you to gain greater understanding of the YouTube eco-system and its growing opportunities.

09 April 2014

Why does repetition work? Science explains!

From National Public Radio:
Psychologists have found that people tend to start off wary of — or even hostile to — new things, which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. But then the act of mere exposure — nothing more than further exposure — changes our feelings. We typically feel more warmly toward things we encounter again and again. 
"Let's say you've heard a little tune before, but you don't even know that you've heard it, and then you hear it again. The second time you hear it you know what to expect to a certain extent, even if you don't know you know," music psychologist Elizabeth Maugulis says. "You are just better able to handle that sequence of sounds. And what it seems like [your mind is saying] is just, 'Oh I like this! This is a good tune!' But that's a misattribution. 
And the power of repeated exposure isn't just limited to music. Research has shown that the mere exposure effect makes stockbrokers feel more warmly toward stocks they've seen before; it also works when looking at art or fashion or random geometric shapes. And, as the psychologist Robert Bornstein  of Adelphi University, points out, the mere exposure effect is part of the reason we see so many political ads before elections.

18 March 2014

10 useful plugins for WordPress that make life easier for content marketers

As bloggers know, content marketing isn’t as easy as writing a post and pushing the “Publish” button.

To attract readers and drive visitors to your website, marketers must optimize blog posts for search, social media, and mobile, all while making sure readers come back for more. Plugins that perform some of these tasks automatically make content marketing less time-consuming. 
Below is our list of the 10 most useful WordPress plugins for content marketers looking to enhance and save time on their blog posts. Most of the suggestions come from personal experience; some are recommendations from peers.

13 March 2014

How to tweak your iPad for shooting pro-grade video

From Wired.com:
The larger screens, the plethora of apps, and the built-in cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity make iPads ideal for seasoned videographers and newbies alike. But ultimately, tapping into the tablet’s true video-shooting potential means using the right combination of tricks, apps, and hardware.

The campaign is dead; long live the movement

Face it. Campaigns are dead.

Placing our hopes in a continuous cycle of ever-changing sales and slogans is foolish.
  • Campaigns motivate customers; movements inspire followers.
  • Campaigns are fleeting; movements are evergreen.
  • Campaigns wither as the ad budget runs out; movements outlive their budgets.
Jim Beam is a movement. Harley-Davidson is a movement. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are movements. So are Coke, and John Deere, and Zippo, and Marvel, and the Coen Brothers, and MINI Cooper.
  • Microsoft is a series of campaigns; Apple is a movement.
  • Six Flags is a series of campaigns; Disney is a movement.
Ads create campaigns; content builds movements.

Go build a movement. Create content that matters.

12 March 2014

Native ads are failing to capture audiences, study suggests

From Re/code:
Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile says that while 71 percent of surfers will stick with a “real” article for more than 15 second, that number drops to 24 percent for native ad stuff.

“What this suggests is that brands are paying for — and publishers are driving traffic to — content that does not capture the attention of its visitors or achieve the goals of its creators."

How to write a Nut Graf

Very early in any brand article you write for a client’s prospects or customers, usually about the third or fourth paragraph, you will need to drop in what journalists call the Nut Graf.
The Nut Graf has three primary purposes:
  1. It provides a transition from the lead paragraph to the body of the story.
  2. It tells readers why the story is timely and pertinent.
  3. It encourages the target audience to continue reading.
This is not time to be coy, creative or cute. What you want to write is a direct, tight summary of what your story is about. This summary will serve as your guide for composing the rest of the story. It will also help your readers quickly assess whether your story interests them and determine if they should continue reading it.
Keep your Nut Graf to one paragraph of less than 50 words. You can break it up into two or even three sentences.
Collection and assembly
Probably the easiest way to write the Nut Graf is to collect the individual parts, then assemble them:
  • WHO are the specific customers you want to reach? Make it clear in the Nut Graf:  This story is for you.
  • WHAT is problem your story is solving? Again, be both clear and specific. Imply that you are making a promise: If you read this story, it will show you how to solve this problem. The “what” usually includes one or more of the keywords from your SEO research.
  • WHEN and WHERE is the problem most likely to occur? This is your news peg. It explains why the customer must read your story right now.
For example, in my story about diagnostic testing for West Nile virus in horses:
  • The WHO are veterinarians who work with horses.
  • The WHAT is the need to prevent, detect and diagnose the disease that is caused by the West Nile virus.
  • The WHEN is the summer, when mosquitos are most common and the disease is most likely to spread to horses.
  • The WHERE is the United States.
When I assembled the parts, I got this Nut Graf:, which I also used as the lead:
“Summer is when the West Nile virus poses the greatest threat to the health of horses in the United States. It’s important for veterinarians to work with horse owners this time of year to prevent, detect and accurately diagnose a potential infection.”
It’s simple, direct and just 42 words. There’s nothing “creative” about it. (Like David Ogilvy, I generally avoid “creative” approaches. They tend to confuse readers. When confused, readers rarely try harder. They just quit reading.)
Here’s an example from a web story from Cosmopolitan magazine headlined: “Want to get rid of your cellulite? These 9 smooth operators can help!”
  • The WHO are women who want to make their bodies more attractive.
  • The WHAT is their desire to hide the cellulite that may accumulate on their butts, thighs and stomachs.
  • The WHEN is the approach of bikini season. As an additional news peg, the story references a recent hit song by the pop group Black Eyed Peas, “My Humps.”
  • The WHERE is the beach.
When assembled, the Nut Graf looks like this:
“We're 100 percent sure women everywhere loved Fergie's song, "My humps, my lovely lady lumps," but 90 percent of them probably sing a different tune when it comes to actual lumps aka cellulite. But while there's still no cure (what is taking so long?!), you can at least camouflage the "orange-peel" look of skin temporarily. We suggest slathering up now, and your butt, thighs, and stomach, should be in top shape (with the help of eating right and exercising!) by the time bikini season rolls around.”
This is certainly longer and more creative than the first example. (After all, it is Cosmo.) But it remains tight, easy to read, and only 86 words.
Here’s another example, this one from a Guns & Ammo web story headlined, “How to pick the best zombie pistol.”
  • The WHO are all gun owners.
  • The WHAT is choosing the right weapon.
  • The WHEN AND WHERE is a future, post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested Earth. This news peg comes from popular culture, especially among millennials who fully expect a zombie invasion in their lifetimes. (They aren’t kidding.)
Here’s the Nut Graf:
“While there can be no denying that rifles and shotguns have distinct advantages in both power and reach, it is the handiness and convenience that makes the handgun indispensable when the excrement hits the wind generator and the dead start walking the earth.”
Again, this one is tight and direct, a little fun and creative, and still only 43 words.
There’s a reason Mark Ragan calls these stories “refrigerator journalism.” You’ve likely clipped out or printed out stories just like these and keep them for later use. You’ve probably shared them with friends and peers. They work.
Learning to identify Nut Grafs in the wild
 Go to your local newsstand and buy a handful of magazines that specialize in “refrigerator journalism.” There are scores of them. You may even subscribe to a few.  If in doubt, check the magazine covers for headlines with phrases like “How to ..,” “Top 10 ways to …” or “Our guide to …”.
Read the stories inside those publications and try to identify the Nut Graf. Break the Nut Grafs down into the Who, the What, the When and the Where.
Some Nut Grafs are obvious. Others aren’t. But every refrigerator story is going to tell you within the first five paragraphs who the story is designed for, what problem it solves, and when and where the information is relevant.
The more of these stories you study, the easier it will get when it comes to writing your own Nut Grafs.


Here are the presentation slides that go with this text.

28 February 2014

8 business models for journalism in the digital age

From the Andreessen Horowitz blog:

Here are eight obvious business models for news now, and in the future. This isn’t a pick one model and stick with it prospect, news businesses should mix and match as relevant.
  1. Advertising: Advertising is still central for many news businesses. But they need to get out of the “race to bottom” dynamic of bad content, bad advertisers, and bad ads. Quality journalism businesses need to either take responsibility for their own high-quality advertisers and ads, or work with partners who do. There is no excuse for crappy network-served teeth whitening come-ons and one weird trick ads served against high quality content. Disastrous.
  2. Subscriptions: Many consumers pay money for things they value much of the time. If they’re unwilling to pay for a news product, it begs the question, are they really valuing it?
  3. Premium content: A paid tier on top of free, ad-supported content. This goes after the high-end news junkies reading the likes of Bloomberg & Reuters. It will work for more and more new outlets. Again, value equals people paying money for something.
  4. Conferences and events: Bits are increasingly abundant, and human presence is becoming scarce. So charge for that scarcity, and use bits to drive demand for human presence.
  5. Cross-media: Tina Brown was right but too early with Talk. News is a key source of material for books, TV, and film—which happen also to be growth businesses.
  6. Crowdfunding: This is a GIGANTIC opportunity especially for investigative journalism. Match people with interest in a topic to the reporters on the ground telling the stories. Click = vote = $. (Helpful hint: Start today with Crowdtilt. Easy-as-pie.)
  7. Bitcoin for micropayments: Easy to get started now (checkout Coinbase). As the consumer use of Bitcoin scales up for transactions, it becomes easy to ask for small amounts of money on a per-story or per-view basis with low or no fees. (A lot more of my thinking on the subject of Bitcoin here.)
  8. Philanthropy: Today the examples are Pro Publica and First Look Media, tomorrow the could be many more examples. There is around $300 billion per year in philanthropic activity in the U.S. alone. It’s WAY underutilized in the news business.

06 February 2014

Repacking the 'suitcase' sentence … or:

How to convey a lot of information in a single sentence, without frustrating your readers, or causing their eyes to pop out of their heads and wave madly on their stalks

Roy Peter Clark, the highly regarded writing coach at the Poynter Institute, criticized the New York Times for the lead paragraph of a controversial news story published Feb. 3 on the Times’ blog. And rightfully so. It’s a dreadful sentence, even for the Times.
Here it is, and this was the Times’ second version of the lead:
The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge in the scandal now swirling around Gov. Christie of New Jersey said on Friday that “evidence exists” the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening.
This is an example of what’s known in the news biz as a “suitcase lead.” Clark describes it better than I can:
If all the news doesn’t quite fit, you just sit on it until it closes.
To demonstrate that it is possible to include a lot of information in a lead while also crafting a clear sentence, Clark proposed reframing the Times lead as a question/answer lead:
When did N.J. Gov. Chris Christie learn about the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that created traffic chaos and a swirling political scandal? In a new development, the official who oversaw those closures says that the governor knew about them as they were happening. He says that “evidence exists” that this is true.
Not bad, and certainly a major improvement. But let me propose another solution: a cumulative sentence. That is, a sentence that makes a clear initial statement, then adds additional information in easy-to-read clauses governed by commas.
Like this:
Evidence exists that Gov. Christie knew about lane closings on the George Washington Bridge as they happened, says the former Port Authority official who oversaw the closings, which sparked a scandal that could derail the New Jersey governor’s anticipated candidacy for the White House.
Or maybe:
The Port Authority official responsible for closing two toll lanes on the George Washington Bridge said Friday “evidence exists” New Jersey Gov. Christie knew about the closures as they triggered a morning rush-hour traffic jam near Fort Lee, leading to a political scandal that could derail the GOP front-runner’s potential bid for the White House.
Perfect? Probably not. But at least each sentence flows in one direction, guiding readers from one point to the next in a logical sequence, rather than forcing readers to retrace their steps to figure out what the hell they just read.

Each of my examples recasts the original Times lead as a cumulative sentence, the type advocated by Iowa State scholar Brooks Landon in his book, “Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kind of Sentences You Love to Read,” which you really should read if you haven’t already, and, if you have read it, you should read it again.

Great sentences are usually long sentences, Landon says, in that they provide more information than do short sentences, and do so elegantly and efficiently, if properly crafted and controlled. There’s no better way to accomplish this than with a cumulative sentence.

I think of these sentences as “cascading sentences,” because they give the reader a sense of kayaking along the rapids of a river, easily stepping down from one level, to the next, to the next, for as long as the writer wants to sustain the sentence.

Short leads aren’t necessarily better leads. The ideal lead summarizes the story in a way that informs the reader, and coddles the reader, and encourages the reader to continue.
A cumulative sentence can handle each task well. And it is fairly easy to build.

You start with a simple declarative sentence. Then you add information with commas and clauses. You really do build the sentence from the ground up.

Hemingway is often praised or criticized for writing short, terse, tough-guy sentences. But the truth is that he used cumulative sentences about as often as short ones. Here’s one from a Nick Adams short story, “Cross Country Snow”:
George was coming down in the telemark position, kneeling, one leg forward and bent, the other trailing, his sticks hanging like some insect’s thin legs, kicking up puffs of snow, and finally the whole kneeling, trailing figure coming around in a beautiful right curve, crouching, the legs shot forward and back, the body leaning out against the swing, the sticks accenting the curve like points of light all in a cloud of snow.
Faulkner frequently used the cumulative sentence as well, as in this example from “As I Lay Dying”:
I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly doing goes along the earth, clinging to it, so that after a while the two lines are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other; and that sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words.
And James Joyce, from “Finnegan’s Wake”:
 Here, and it goes on to appear now, she comes, a peacefugle, a parody's bird, a peri potmother, a pringlpik in the ilandiskippy, with peewee and powwows in beggybaggy on her bickybacky and a flick flask fleckflinging its pixylighting pacts' huemeramybows, picking here, pecking there, pussypussy plunderpussy.
And Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”:
One world is aware, and by the far the largest to me, and that is myself, and whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years, I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.
And Kurt Vonnegut, in his essay “I Love You, Madame Librarian”:
And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.
And Ernie Pyle, in a 1943 news story from the frontlines of World War II in Northern Tunesia:
In their eyes as they pass is not hatred, not excitement, not despair, not the tonic of their victory - there is just the simple expression of being here as though they had been here doing this forever, and nothing else.
Here's one from a true master of the cumulative sentence, gonzo journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, in his factual novel, “Hell’s Angels”:
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!
OK, you get the idea. Start with a simple, declarative sentence, and then build upon it with modifying clauses, refining the original image until you nail it.

Hey, it works, especially when you are forced to convey a lot of information quickly and efficiently, and you want to make life easier for your readers, or at least keep them from giving up and turning the page.