Our nightly Olympic Highlights aggregation feature has been very popular with readers at ColumbiaMissourian.com, so I want to share some Google Analytics traffic data. Here are page views so far, excluding readers from the Missourian newsroom:

July 29: 2,829 (the most popular story on the site since the Olympics began)

July 28: 1,832

July 31: 1,034

July 30: 830

Aug. 2: 475

Aug. 1: 365

Aug. 4: 271

Aug. 3: 213

This nightly feature has been produced by editors on the Missourian’s interactive copy editing (or ICE) desk.

The average time on site for these stories has been very good, ranging from 1:14 to 3:11. The time on site is affected by the number of photos in the gallery and the number of AP Olympics videos. Readers are apparently looking at the videos, even though they aren’t as compelling as I had hoped due to a lack of footage from the competitions. (Instead, AP is using still photos.)

At ColumbiaMissourian.com, we’ve had more than 20,000 page views of stories with “Olympic” in the URL or headline since July 22.

By the way, our AP Summer Games site has had 1,170 page views since we launched it July 22, according to Google Analytics. Although that isn’t a huge number, the site has had a relatively good 1:13 average time per page. The largest source of traffic by far is direct referrals from ColumbiaMissourian.com. The site has also been useful for ICE desk production because we don’t have to post every story that we use as a link in our Olympic Highlights aggregation.

Thanks to everyone who has helped with Olympics coverage on our website.

I’m proud of the aggregated content Columbia Missourian journalists have created over the past two semesters on our interactive copy editing desk.

As the news industry tries to find its way toward a successful transition from print-oriented to “digital first” thinking, it’s tempting to view copy editors as a costly budget line rather than a valuable resource.

Other journalists, including American Copy Editors Society President Teresa Schmedding, have defended our profession by showing that copy editors create value for news organizations. Copy editors can be skilled at writing focused, SEO-friendly online headlines. They catch errors that can save publications from costly libel suits.

As research by Fred Vultee of Wayne State University has demonstrated, readers appreciate our efforts. They notice the difference between edited and unedited copy. In particular, copy editors’ work can make a difference in perceptions of liberal or conservative bias in our news stories.

Copy editors are also skilled at aggregating content. We’ve been doing that for decades by creating index material and packages of wire news briefs for print newspapers. In the digital-first environment, we can create similar material that can be posted as valuable, reader-friendly online content.

The San Jose Mercury News, my employer for more than a decade, was a pioneer in recognizing that copy editors are uniquely skilled at creating compelling aggregated content. Levi Sumagaysay, the Merc’s former business copy chief, is the author of the popular Good Morning Silicon Valley tech-industry blog at SiliconValley.com. Jeremy C. Owens, a veteran of the Merc’s consolidated copy desk at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., succeeded me as writer of the daily 60-Second Business Break online newsletter.

Here at MU and the Columbia Missourian, Missouri sports is to us what Silicon Valley’s technology industries are to the Mercury News and SiliconValley.com.  Missourian journalists on our interactive copy editing — or ICE — desk have brought thousands of page views to our site with The Week in Missouri Sports and The Week in Missouri Football features, which link to the best sports stories on ColumbiaMissourian.com and to interesting commentary on other sites, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Kansas City Star, ESPN, and even our crosstown rival, the Columbia Daily Tribune. Read the rest of this entry »

Our ICE desk editors have been busy this semester creating original aggregated content at the levels of public service and storytelling for the Missourian’s website.

This work fits well with the role and skills of our interactive copy editors. They are knowledgeable about the reported stories on our website. They are curious and can find compelling material on other news sites and elsewhere online.

This work also could fit well on most newspaper copy desks. Copy editors are skilled at distilling information into concise text. A good copy editor can tell a story in a short headline, summary or caption. For print publications, we’ve turned to copy editors to compile packages of news briefs and features such as celebrity columns. For the Web, we can turn to copy editors to create content that can be much more valuable for readers.

At the Missourian, we publish in print five days a week, but our interactive copy editing desk is staffed to update our website seven days a week. Sunday is an online-only production day — and it can be a relatively slow news day. Our interactive copy editors are using that time to create fresh content that has been popular with Sunday evening and Monday morning readers.

At its best use, aggregated content complements the strengths of a news site. At the San Jose Mercury News, for example, the Good Morning Silicon Valley blog and 60-Second Business Break newsletter add to the newsroom staff’s excellent coverage of Apple, Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley technology companies.

At the Missourian, by far the most popular topic among our readers is Missouri football. The ICE desk has created a regular The Week in Missouri Football feature that aggregates content from our talented staff football writers and commentary from other websites. Our Sunday editors alternate as the writer of this feature. However, they have developed a unique voice for The Week in Missouri Football and a common format — a summary of Saturday’s game, with commentary on the team’s strengths and weaknesses, followed by updates on other football-related news (so far, that has been mostly conference realignment developments) and a look ahead to Missouri’s next game.

Other Sunday features also emphasize the week in review. The desk has created a The Week’s Most-Read Stories feature, with summaries of the 10 most-read stories posted the week before on ColumbiaMissourian.com. We also edit the community outreach team’s The Week in Comments (which includes the week’s best posts from our loyal commenters) and build The Week in Photos gallery. (The Week in Photos, by the way, is not just an opportunity to showcase our photographers’ best work. We also can summarize and link back to the photo galleries and stories where that work first appeared.)

Sunday is not the only day the ICE desk builds such content. Throughout the week, our editors create aggregated stories that guide readers to current news events. As examples, ICE desk editors wrote a guide to the Missourian’s coverage of the debate about transit service in Columbia and collected some of the best journalism in the aftermath of 9/11 and on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. I’ll have more details in a future post.

In the newspaper business, aggregation has a bad name. We blame news aggregators for stealing our original content and contributing to the downfall of our industry.

In truth, aggregation can help news websites as much as it can hurt them. Aggregation exists at three levels, each progressively adding more journalistic value.

The first level of aggregation takes from other websites without giving them much back or adding anything for the reader. This takes the form of listing headlines or copying and pasting the first few paragraphs of a story and providing a link to the original version. Don’t get me wrong. This level of aggregation is legal if done correctly. Moreover, a link from the Drudge Report, The Huffington Post or Yahoo News can bring hundreds of thousands of readers to a website — and smaller sites should welcome the exposure such links can bring. As it turns out, however, these readers probably aren’t as likely to return in the future as those who land on a news site in some other way — at least based on the traffic data I’ve seen at the Missourian and elsewhere.

The second level of aggregation can be a public service for readers. It involves providing links to useful information — and summarizing what readers should expect when they click through to those links. (An example from the Missourian’s website is a quick summary of coverage from a recent Monday evening meeting of the Columbia City Council.)

The third level of aggregation is as much storytelling as providing links to other online information sources. It involves creativity and synthesizing more than copying or summarizing. At this level of aggregation, writers might not be reporting, but they are researching. Instead of calling a source on the phone or attending a meeting, they’re turning to other sources of online information — stories on our site, commentary elsewhere online and direct background material — for their own original stories. This level of aggregation involves not dropping our standards. We should insist on the same level of accuracy and fairness — and we should verify information — just as we would with a story written by a reporter. (An example from the Missourian is our very popular The Week in Missouri Football feature.)

At the Missourian, our interactive copy editing desk has been busy creating aggregated content at the levels of public service and storytelling this semester. I’ll have more details about their work in a future post.

On a Monday a few weeks ago, the Missourian’s community outreach team delivered a product that contributed to civic empowerment and democratic conversation. On the next Wednesday, I spent my day on a task that made me wholly uncomfortable.

All in all, not a bad week.

First I’ll discuss the pride. Then the discomfort.

Read the rest of this entry »

In August, I wrote to Missourian readers about what I hoped my new community outreach team would do. Now I’d like to share some of what we’re doing day to day.

Here’s a running list of the tasks we’re assigned, beginning with some routine ones and leading up to some exciting experiments. Many of these come straight out of the community engagement discussion guide I published as part of my fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Many are also inspired by or directly borrowed from what I learned through a series of interviews.

Daily and weekly newsroom duties

  • Monitor and, when appropriate, participate in comments on ColumbiaMissourian.com.
  • Take charge of and strategize for the Missourian’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  • Monitor email that comes to the newsroom for story ideas and for posts for our citizen journalism site, MyMissourian.
  • Attend daily news meetings at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., as well as individual beat meetings, looking for ways we can contribute.
  • Review the daily news budget for stories that would benefit from discussion about audience, in terms of collaboration, online conversation, comments, etc. — or in terms of finding the right audience and taking the content to them. Suggest to the reporters and editors how the community might help us report or share the news.
  • When appropriate, tweet out reports after the news meetings of what our staff is working on.
  • Search social media for what people are talking about. Report back about what you’re hearing. Monitor Google alerts and Twitter searches for the newsroom, and see if any beats or topics would benefit from having new ones set up.
  • Be ready for breaking news. Be prepared to help find sources, solicit community content, live-blog and use social media to report to the community, hand out fliers door to door — whatever makes sense for the situation.
  • Look for chances to share the story behind the story, by doing a podcast, Q&A or video interview with the journalists.
  • Look for archive coverage or CoMoYouKnow posts that could be relevant to users today. Consider adding them to our coverage online and sharing them on social platforms.
  • Look for ways that content being produced today will be relevant or could be repacked in the future, and for ways that content in our archives might be useful today.
  • Leave the newsroom. Find a place to listen, and report back about what you’re hearing.
  • Compile weekly analytics reports for the Missourian. Share highlights at a news meeting.
  • Aggregate the best of Missourian comments, for Web once a week and print twice a week.
  • Look for opportunities to create Twitter lists to help people follow or digest the news.
  • Look through plans for event coverage for opportunities for live blogs or live chats.

Longer-term project ideas

  • Assess whether the Missourian should be offering an email subscription or text message service.
  • Update and improve our about page, contact us page and staff bio pages.
  • Craft or update newsroom policies for social media and for contributing to comments.
  • Come up with new ways to share analytics information, both internally and with our users.
  • Make a list of all the ways users can get in touch with the newsroom and individual journalists — all of them, from online comments to letters to stopping journalists on the street. Figure out which ones we want to encourage, and turn that into a list for publication and for internal use.
  • Make a list, with descriptions, of campus and city media, blogs and other information sources, and figure out how to make that a community resource.
  • Determine if there’s a Columbia or Mizzou network of people on social media sites such as YouTube, Quora, Google+ and LinkedIn. See if there’s a way to share that information with our users.
  • Create a Facebook welcome page. Assess what we’re learning and could be learning from Facebook Insights (the analytics tool).
  • Come up with a plan for introducing users to each other. Should we feature a Facebook fan, Twitter follower, frequent commenter, blogger, etc., each week?
  • Think about what we’d like to enlist our community to help us cover, from sharing photos of JV basketball games to live blogging community meetings.
  • Brainstorm how we could bring more users into the newsroom — for budget meetings, story help and special events.
  • Brainstorm how we could use our photo archives to interact with the community.
  • Brainstorm how we could share information about Columbia’s history or Mizzou’s history. Could we do an oral history project? Or ask people to share memories about a specific time, place or event?
  • Figure out how the Missourian could take news tips and photos via text message — and promote that.
  • Consider creating a Twitter account just to retweet interesting things from campus — or the whole city.
  • Consider how we could steal an idea from video stores or bookstores and create a “staff picks” or “what we’re reading” section.
  • Brainstorm ways to make our staff of editors more accessible to the community. Stories? Videos? A Facebook album?
  • Brainstorm ways the Missourian could be using check-in platforms like Foursquare and Gowalla to interact with the community and add a location-based element to our information.

I know we won’t get to all of this, and I truly hope it’s just the beginning of our experiment.

What are we missing?

I need your help.

Grab your cell phone, punch in http://mobile.columbiamissourian.com/ and bookmark it. Use the mobile Missourian site for a couple of days. Then send feedback to weirr@missouri.edu and reedkath@missouri.edu. (That’s Rob Weir and Katherine Reed.) You can cc me if you’d like.

We want to make this thing public asap. We want to make sure it works, and improve it, before then.

Thanks.

Tom

It’s not just a copy desk. It’s also a content desk.

One of the strengths of the Missourian’s interactive copy desk is that our editors also have been trained as reporters. They know how to gather information. They know how to write. They understand storytelling.

Of course, throughout the industry, copy editors and journalists with desk backgrounds contribute to the creation of news content. On the print side, in addition to writing headlines and other display type, copy editors compile packages of news briefs and content such as celebrity-news columns. At the San Jose Mercury News, the skills and knowledge of Silicon Valley I acquired as an editor on our copy desks transferred easily to my most recent job as an online editor and writer. Numerous former copy editors, for that matter, have found work as producers, editors and writers for news websites. Levi Sumagaysay, my former colleague on the Merc’s business copy desk, has brought her voice and technology-industry expertise to SiliconValley.com’s popular Good Morning Silicon Valley blog. Jeremy C. Owens, my successor as writer of MercuryNews.com’s daily 60-Second Business Break online newsletter, is also a veteran of the Merc’s copy desk.

The news industry, of course, has been in an often painful transition as readers shift from print to online — and now mobile — news sources. It’s been a struggle for many of us, but I’m optimistic about the future. The new CEO of the Merc’s parent company believes that “digital revenues can pay for newspaper newsrooms.” Publications throughout the country are shifting to a digital-first model while still maintaining high standards for their print publications.

The Missourian has been a leader in the transition to a “Web first” newsroom, and copy editors have been central to that change — literally. The Missourian moved its copy editors to a new interactive copy editing desk (affectionately known as the ICE box) in the center of the newsroom, adjacent to a hub desk staffed by news and city editors. Nick Jungman, my predecessor as the Missourian’s Knight visiting editor/visiting assistant professor, chronicled the transition on this blog.

Thanks to the efforts of Nick and other Missourian editors, the ICE desk editors are the day-to-day producers of ColumbiaMissourian.com. In addition to editing stories and writing headlines, they curate links and build features such as photo galleries. They help moderate comments and bring Missourian stories directly to readers via Facebook and Twitter. They are also bringing a storytelling approach to aggregated content. (Read more about that in a future post.)

I’m excited to join the Missourian in this transition. I’d also like to learn more about how editors throughout the industry are contributing to their newsrooms’ online and mobile efforts. Please join the conversation by leaving a comment.

This post was published first at joymayer.com.

I have a lot to write and say about the Missourian’s 3-week-old community outreach team, and how we’re hoping to expand the boundaries of traditional definitions of journalism and keep the focus of the Columbia Missourian squarely on the community it serves.

Today, I’ll take just a few minutes to share the project that I’m most excited about to date.

In assessing our newsroom’s coverage plans for the 9/11 anniversary, we decided we wanted to stay focused on real people and real conversations. A couple of students wanted to put together tips for parents on how to talk to young children about 9/11, during a weekend when scary images and stories would be hard to avoid. So Lexa Deckert and Charesse James did the interviews and wrote a story. I think it’s pretty good.

And then we turned the information into a two-page handout (downloadable on the left side of the story, and right here) and distributed it around town. We handed out 800 copies, at the public library, day care centers, soccer games, popular kid spots and coffee shops.

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. The handout has been received as it was intended — as a public service. One person asked if we wanted to charge her to leave the flyers fliers. A few asked if it would be OK to make more copies if they ran out, or if we could email a digital version. A few others expressed surprise and asked if this was the kind of thing the Missourian often did. One community center said they weren’t allowed to post anything not provided by the city. But in general, people are taking them and thanking us for them.

On purpose, we did not link back to the more complete story our website. The goal is not to drive page views. It’s to provide a community service, and be seen as a community resource.

In our morning news meeting, one editor asked if we’d consider seeking sponsorship for something like this in the future. I think it’s worth talking about, as are so many angles of the project.

For now, I’m really excited that 800 pieces of paper were floating around town, with information designed to make families’ lives easier during a complex news weekend.

It’s my last day at the Missourian. Next week, I’ll load up the U-Haul for a move back to Wichita, where I’ll become managing editor of the Wichita Business Journal. As a parting shot, I want to call your attention to two blog posts that I think are further evidence that the interactive copy desk and our Transition are blazing a trail that others will follow.

First, a piece by Steve Yelvington, who is a well-known digital strategist at Morris Communications, publisher of the Topeka Capital-Journal in our region. Yelvington’s post carries a provocative title, “Let’s just bury the nightside copy desk.” He is trying to counter the hue and cry over the McClatchy Co.’s move to consolidate copy editing for its Raleigh paper’s print edition at its sister paper in Charlotte. Some excerpts:

The flat truth is: If you’re editing stories for a newspaper deadline, you’re doing it wrong. …

Print is, at best, a static fork of a continuous digital process. If you’re waiting to post news until it’s edited for print, you’re killing your job. If you’re posting news on the Web that isn’t of publication quality, you’re killing your job. …

I believe print layout/design is journalism. I understand the importance of qualified editors in the print-finishing process, writing or rewriting headlines, trimming and condensing stories to fit the unyielding requirements of the physical page. But if that’s where your editing is happening, you’re screwed.

Go read it. He’s making the argument for The Transition as well as we’ve ever made it.

John McIntyre, night editor at the Baltimore Sun and a former president of the American Copy Editors Society, responded sympathetically to Yelvington’s post:

And there, I think, [referring to Yelvington's remarks about print editing] is the point that is missed by the managers who are eliminating copy desks. They would be better advised to find ways to incorporate copy editors more thoroughly into the production of the electronic editions.

Which is exactly what the Missourian’s interactive copy desk is demonstrating.