As the main dayside news editor at the Missourian for the second half of the summer (and often the only person actually on duty at the desk), I’ve stayed busy with a lot of tasks besides editing stories. That’s partly because I’ve grown passionate about a more participatory style of journalism — a real engagement with readers. It’s what I’m going to be working on while a fellow at RJI next year, and I’ve been doing some experimenting this summer. I think the copy desk is a logical arm of the newsroom to practice and proselytize for engagement.
I offer up my default routine from the past several weeks, not as The Answer for what a copy desk should do, but as a starting point, for you guys to poke holes in. Here’s what I do each day. Probably each hour, actually. I just cycle through.
The routine begins before I come to work (often at 6:30, cause I’m up). I check the wire from my kitchen table. I usually post a story or two, to get something fresh on the site. I also make a list of things to watch throughout the day. And check the comments.
These are roughly in order of importance, in my opinion.
Check Rim Fast.
This is the queue that publishes BEFORE editing. If something’s published on our site, we need to be sure it’s ready for prime time. Make sure we’re not embarrassing ourselves.
Check the online comments.
If we’ve gotten spammed, or trolled, we don’t want to wait for someone to alert us. And, on a happier note, if a reader has put a suggestion or question on a story, we don’t want to risk waiting too long to answer and losing his/her attention. I acknowledge pretty much all suggestions, or invite the reporter to do so. I forward all questions on to the reporters. And I always sign my name with my staff affiliation, for transparency’s sake. (“— Joy Mayer, ColumbiaMissourian.com.”)
Same with comments, we want to acknowledge comments and suggestions. Write back. Sometimes, I’ll let them know that it’s @mayerjoy writing back, if a personal touch seems to be needed.
Use peoples’ or businesses’ handles whenever possible. For example, Les Bourgeois sent out our slideshow this morning and used @CoMissourian, which alerts us that they did it, rather than just saying “The Missourian’s slideshow.” It’s Twitter etiquette. When you tweet about an organization or person, see if they’re on Twitter.
For maximum engagement (and to avoid looking like an amateur), don’t use Twitter like an RSS feed. A tweet that’s basically a headline should be the exception. Add some personality. Pose a question. Write it like you’d say it. Avoid looking automated. With our preview of a production of “Footloose” in July, I tweeted out some song titles to get people in the mood. (Who can read “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” and not tap your toes?) There may have even been a link to a YouTube video. Why not?
Schedule tweets, if they’re not time-sensitive. The fastest way to lose followers is to clog their feeds. It’s fine to take 10 minutes to draw attention to several interesting stories, but then schedule them over a two-hour period at least.
I also check with our friends are tweeting out. I’ll retweet a program notice from the library, or an observation about life in CoMo. I also check the Twissourian, an interface Andrew Van Dam set up to keep track of tweets near Columbia, about Columbia hashtags and from Columbia news outlets. It’s a bunch of crap, with some real gems thrown in.
Basically, act like you’re a person, not a stuffy organization. HOWEVER, remember that you’re representing an organization. We can have a personality without expressing opinions, especially on news stories.
Check the daily budget.
So you know what we’re working on.
Our Facebook strategy needs some serious development. We very rarely get comments, or get mentioned by other folks. It’s way too much like an RSS feed. And people really don’t want a bunch of headlines clogging up their feed. We need to figure out how to make it feel more personal. One idea is to have reporters post their own stories when they’re up for it, using the @ sign to tag the Missourian in the post. It would increase awareness of our presence. Like I said, though, this needs work.
Check the wire.
I start with the Missouri wire (text and photos). Then check national headlines. Missouri wire stories pretty much always show up in our most-read list. Readers are interested. They come from all over the state, so some of the attention is probably people checking in on where else they’ve lived. But some of it is just funny/interesting. Like the alligator found in a Missouri creek. I check the sports wire, too, when I think about it. I don’t post gamers, but I do look for developments related to our teams, or state sports.
Check Rim Slow.
Only after I’m sure everything else is taken care of do I dive into the main copy editing queue. I figure there’s nothing there that can’t wait 20 minutes while I take care of more urgent tasks first.
Check the Missourian’s blogs.
The neighborhoods blog has had some great content this summer. Sometimes we’ll put an excerpt in a django story file, linking back to the blog. A sports blog is about to get going, and we should definitely keep an eye on it for featuring on the home page.
Check other news outlets.
I check the Trib a couple of times a day. I check Newsy, cause they’re great at featuring what people are talking about. I keep up with the TV stations mostly on Twitter.
Sometimes I get news tips that I yell across the newsroom. But I think the desk can also link to other sites, or find other ways to acknowledge the news. It’s important for the Missourian to seem on top of whatever people are talking about, and there are lots of ways to do that besides assigning a reporter to a story. One of my favorite gems from the summer is this heat feature, which Rachel Schallom put together from the wires when the newsroom didn’t have anything coming on the heat, and I wanted us to acknowledge it somehow. After hearing me complain that the newsroom wasn’t doing anything on the heat, JPS also went and jumped in a lake. Because he rocks. That video is on the same link.
That’s basically how I spend my time. Rinse and repeat. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I can’t wait for there to be a bustling newsroom full of folks to help keep the site fresh. As Nick wrote a few weeks ago, this job can feel lonely. Partly because there isn’t a copy desk around me, and partly because we’re not structured to have much urgency in the first part of our day.