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.
At the Missourian’s ICE desk, we create aggregated news content with the realization that it exists on three levels:
- The (perfectly legal) cut-and-paste level.
- The public service level — with summaries and links to useful, relevant information. Examples of this are our The Week’s Most-Read Stories, which summarizes the 10 most popular stories posted the week before at ColumbiaMissourian.com, and The Week in Photos, the five or six best images of the week as chosen by our photo department. These features can be popular. In fact, last week’s The Week’s Most-Read Stories is No. 3 on this week’s The Week’s Most-Read Stories.
- The storytelling level — with other online stories used as sources for our own original stories. Think of this level as more synthesis than summary.
Our most popular features are created on Sunday evenings, when our ICE desk routine otherwise (but not always!) can be slow. We’ve been experimenting, though, with showing that aggregated content can be worked into our weekday workflow in ways that help readers. For example, our ICE desk editors combine wire stories and YouTube video from The Associated Press to create a multimedia view of the day’s news for In Headlines Today and World News in Brief. We also call attention to great stories Missourian readers may have missed with Staff Picks.
ICE desk editors also contribute one-time aggregated stories based on news events. Last semester, for example, 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.
This semester, among other projects, they created a quick summary of Columbia’s municipal election results, a review of Japan a year after the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster built around a report from our Missouri School of Journalism colleagues at “Global Journalist,” a story about our worst snowfall of the winter (it wasn’t nearly as bad as last year), and a guide to fact-checking the State of the Union address.
We’re just getting started. At our newsroom — and yours — copy editors could build aggregated content around coverage of high-interest topics such as crime news, education and high school sports. As for the rest of 2012, we’ll build aggregated reports on the London Olympics in the summer and the presidential election in the fall.