great article but still needs alittle touch
Online News Editor: To Be Or Not To Be
An online news editor is someone who researches, writes, edits, enriches with images, references with complementary resources and links an article to be published on a Web site.
Photo credit: Thomas Aigner
Nonetheless the enormous proliferation of blog sites (web sites that can be easily updated and posted to without requiring any technical support or competence) and a large population of young journalism students, there doesn't seem to be yet any significant number of talented individuals working at honing and refining the required skills. If you are blogger you'll probably feel that this is a presumptuous overstatement, but if you are not one, you may likely share some of the suggestions that I want to make in this article.
Just like for other technologies, the sudden availability of means and tools to publish directly on the web, hasn't automatically created an army of great reporters and news writers, though there are many positive signs pointing to things gradually changing.
While those who were great, talented writers, commentators and reporters have only greatly benefited from the ease of use made available by the new personal publishing tools like blogs, most of the newcomers have found themselves with completely new materials and tools than the ones they had been leveraging before in their lives.
Fact is, that it does take some time for any group to explore, discover and familiarize itself with a new technology. In the neophyte phase of this new individual publishing era, many have spent more time exploring, testing, experimenting and getting a knack for what this is all about, than starting to question the format, style, editorial approach required to move from personal writing to professional publishing.
Now that each Internet-connected computer is a publishing press, do we just start writing or is it good that we look and anticipate how to best integrate lessons from the past from the opportunities offered by these fascinating new media?
How is it possible then to anticipate the next phase of technology adoption, integration, of the online personal publishing age?
I personally think that the first step in this direction should be one of crediting and re-evaluating some of those components of print journalism, academic research and general media publishing that in the rush to ride the new horizons opened by blogs, wikis, and RSS some of us may have somehow forgotten about.
Integrating key journalistic, research and media publishing approaches into the grassroots online journalism wave sweeping the Internet can only help increase the value and credibility of the information provided both by established writers gone independent as well as by bloggers wanting-to-be-opinion leaders in the shortest time possible.
What is then specifically needed to become an online news editor, reporter, writer that can establish oneself as an authority in her field, while gathering attention and respect from traditional media and becoming increasingly courted by advertising agencies and PR agencies?
Here are a few, simple, basic rules I would suggest to adopt:
Whatever it is you write or report about, be consistent in its timely coverage, in-depth analysis, format and style. Don't keep changing. Experimentation and creative exploration are good but should be restrained to established areas and spaces devoted just to that. Show the character, identity, vision and mission-message you have, in a consistent and coherent way across the majority of your writings.
Do your research on the topic. Don't pick up a news item just by rephrasing a press release or by checking the official web site. Check out what others have written on the topic and search the blogosphere for citations and comments. Use the great tools available at Technorati, Feedster, Pubsub, Blogpulse, Bloglines to find out who is talking about who and who has written before on your selected topic.
Define and clarify every new term of concept you introduce. Give respect to your readers desire to learn and understand what you may have long taken for granted. Use Google "define" facility to link your technical concepts to full online definitions technical terms and new words you introduce (see for example: http://tinyurl.com/ah72k).
This is becoming, with due right, one of the most valuable assets an online editor can build for herself. As a large percentage of Internet users find, discover and explore content they are seeking via the web major search engines, it is of the essence that making titles of content fit the search engines paradigm for classification is an unavoidable requirement. So how do you go about selecting your ideal title? For now I suggest three simple rules: 1) Short, 2) Topic Relevant, 3) User-centered. I know these words may not mean much to some of you but I will soon devoting a full length article just to this.
As the Internet acts as an extended, infinite virtual library, "tagging", classifying any online published content is an infinitely valuable and too often underestimated critical step. To achieve a minimum level of classification activate the use of categories in your online publishing system or blog, introduce the use of "tags" or keywords in each article, submit your content to open folksonomies and social bookmarking sites like delicious, furl, spurl and let users start tagging and classifying your content according to their preferences.
References, references, references. If you want to build or increase your online credibility, providing multiple, qualified references is as essential as writing the article itself. Especially if you are not an established online authority, showing and making it easy to access other writers who support, document, and contribute to your own points is as valuable as gold.
Readers may be often reading your content because they are researching a topic and looking for specific answers to their needs. By complementing your articles with other content resources such as books, reports, and relevant promotions for products and services, you may greatly enhance the value and quality of the experience provided to your readers.
Have a clear article structure.
Introduce, describe, detail, conclude. Do not dive off into a rant without having given a short brief summary of what the article is about. As more and more people scan RSS feeds, search engine result pages with little time available it is critical that the beginning of your content sets the tone, topic and key issues that will be covered in it, without forcing the user to scan through the whole article to evaluate whether it matches is information needs.
Have a clear, legible page.
The clearer, professionally laid out, legible and accessible your page is the better. The least interruptions and distractions in terms of ads, sponsors, and other items calling for attention on the sides or within your content the better.
Pay attention to details.
That is what makes the pros stand-out from the amateur, even in the broadly painted world of blogs. Attention to details spans from the care you have taken in optimizing your page layout and navigation, to the legibility of your content, to the number of uncorrected misspelled words, to the ease with which a reader gets the impression you didn't rush that last story out. One effective rule utilized by a few is to verify your content after it has been printed. Reviewing content on-screen is not the best way to go about, especially if you are the one who has written it. On the other hand many online writers fail to check their content once published online, missing to catch glaring mistakes and unpredictable layout issues that could have not been easily spotted before publication. So make sure you do check your content in print before publishing, and on screen, once it is published.
Quality of writing.
In whichever language you write, your stuff must be properly written, spell-checked, and possibly reviewed by someone else outside of you. A reader gets very rapidly put down if she sees multiple grammar or syntactical errors and though I do agree with you that quality information and its timeliness are more important factors in this new emerging online world, I also think that as the number of independent individual news sources starts to grow, quality of writing may become a decisive discriminator determining who, among many, may get greater attention and respect in her field of reporting.
Both for native and non-native writers in any language, thoroughly spell checking any article is an absolute must. Since spell checkers can only do so much (e.g.: if you misspell "contract" for "contact", your spell checker may fail to spot that word as an error) it is always a necessity to have someone else read and check the article before it gets published. This is always an extremely useful step to take, as the writer's brain does not normally have the ability to review her own writing with full detachment and an impartial, critical eye.
Of course, there is a lot more that goes into making building one's own credibility as an online news editor than these foundation items I have briefly been pointing to.
Sticking to the above can provide some initial guidance to those who have less public writing experience while establishing some solid foundations to further develop their personal news editing and online reporting skills.
So, what else, do you think should be added?
Being an online news editor, I know first-hand the problems journalists find on the Web.
You have to step above the ramblings of the every-day journal writer and elevate the content to being newsworthy.
Are there any groups, organizations or workshops you know of that can help other editors like myself refine their skills?
How can we take an article about "writing good blogs" serioiusly when it contains numerous errors like "The clearer, professionally laid out, legible and accessible your page is the better."
Good points all around. I think you'll find we've been experimenting with these new roles and how to integrate them at Newsplex. See the New Journalists under Concepts at
Also, take a look at the Wireless Election Connection: http://wec.textamerica.com
one of the projects we have developed as we seek to redefine the roles in a newsroom.
Through Newsplex, the University of S.C., has just finished doing a major project covering "biker week" in Myrtle Beach. It is different because I am unaware of any other that has taken students and professionals, trained them in cross-media and then set them loose to work on each other's platforms.
A lot of what you've said, such as the need for excellent titling, has been pointed out before by Amy Gahran and Jakob Nielsen who pointed out that on the Web, headlines may be more valuable than even in the newspaper, and the skill to write them well even more prized.
thanks for your kind feedback and comments.
I think that you definitely nailed me when saying "the originative intellectual worker of the future will need to develop a skill-set that allows some proficiency in both. I don't think it's quite so straightfoward as "moving" from one to the other." and I do agree with you.
That is in fact what I wanted to convey in the piece, namely that we DO need both the skill set of the traditional media reporter as well as some of the new traits that have appeared on blogs and independent news sites.
I think that the issue with "purpose" is generally a less important one, though many blogs do indeed lack or willfully characterize themselves for a lack of it. New personal publishing media release any left barriers keeping the individual from being able to select and write on issues that have meaning and interest to her.
Unlike traditional media, here it is much harder to fake it, or to ride anything just for the sake of money. The passionate, competent writer will always outrun the well paid pro doing it for the money.
Thanks again for contributing your thoguhts.
You write about the need to find an "editorial approach required to move from personal writing to professional publishing".
An interesting fact is that blogging is a hybrid of the two. The originative intellectual worker of the future will need to develop a skill-set that allows some proficiency in both. I don't think it's quite so straightfoward as "moving" from one to the other.
We now know that Excite.com failed because it didn't have a policy for the "long tail", which represented 97% of its market. This long tail in blogging is not so much interested in the glossy presentational methods of the MSM (mainstream media) but rather, I believe, in expressing itself
with a purpose. That purpose can be many things. Those who succeed will be more focused and enterprising than the rest, and will undoubtedly use the points you list in your excellent piece. But while we try to import MSM production values into long tail efforts, there will be a distraction from the core product, which is the "purpose" of the individual blogger, not the mechanics of blogging itself. To define that purpose within the remit of MSM is maybe to miss a point or two.
I'm always amazed at the standards displayed in your own blogs, Robin, both in terms of quality of presentation and depth of coverage. They are truly exemplary. But as the Excite case illustrates, there is something else going on below the tideline. I hope to show this in my new book, "Blogging With a Purpose". [wink]