Archives for posts with tag: aces 2011

This session was aimed at print editors who need to make a transition into online editing, but I thought I’d come away from it with some ideas for what we should be teaching. Some of the most interesting information I got was about search-engine-optimizing headlines.

Dan Gaines of LATimes.com, again, was one of the three panelists. LAT is part of Tribune Co., which employs one of the more prominent SEO experts working in journalism, Brent D. Payne. LAT customizes each Web story’s page title, which is the title that appears on the bar at the top of the browser window, and that title is different from the main headline appearing in the content area above the story. (For those of you who know HTML, we’re talking about the <title> tag and the <h1> tag.) LAT adds literal search-term keywords at the beginning of the title, in a way that they might not appear in the headline. An example Dan showed was this story live now:

  • Headline: U.S. warships launch airstrikes on Libya
  • Title: Libya attack: U.S. attacks targets in Libya – latimes.com

Tribune’s theory is that the title is much more important to Google than the headline — and that front-loading the keywords is advantageous. So assuming “Libya attack” is a good SEO keyword, that gets prepended to a workable headline for the story — and the site name is appended, which I presume happens automatically — and we’ve got super-optimized display type. I’d argue (and Dan did, too) that the title here is unnecessarily repetitive; it could have been something like “Libya attack: U.S. warships launch airstrikes.” But you see how it works. We can’t specify a separate title in the Missourian’s CMS, but it’s a feature we could easily implement.

Another bit of information that I found useful came from Doris Truong, who’s an editor at The Washington Post and a Mizzou alum. She reminded me about Google Trends, which is an easy way to see what keywords are important right now for searchers using Google. I usually recommend that our copy editors dip into our own Google Analytics account to see what keywords are important to the Missourian, but that information is only good for stories that have been in the news for several hours at least. Google Trends is telling us what is hot at this minute, and it can show you national trending as well as regional trending. It also allows you to compare different terms. A cool tool.

Are copy editors becoming a sort of information architect? User-experience engineer? They seem to be at the Los Angeles Times. Dan Gaines, managing editor for operations at LATimes.com, led a session on how copy editors can get involved in the honing of interactive presentations.

These things are often very complicated and jam-packed with information. The designers spend so much time with them, they become unable to pass judgment on how good they are. Copy editors are trained to think like readers and to read for detail. They can make interactive graphics markedly better. ”We find that the more people we have look at these things, they happier we are with the results,” Gaines said.

Here’s an example of an interactive graphic that has been noted as a striking example of the form, but that Gaines finds lacking. What do the colors mean? Is it readable? Why are the colors in the semicircle at top and the main graphic below different? These are problems that copy editors are apt to notice. Gaines compiled a series of examples, both good and bad, on a Tumblr blog.

The problem, of course, is that the process for getting that editing done is haphazard at best, even at the Times, it seems. It’s no better at the Missourian. But as this style of information presentation proliferates, this editing becomes more important. It’s something we need to look at closely at the Missourian.

John De Leon was a graduate student in engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology, and he kept finding typographical errors in his textbooks. “Who hasn’t?” you academics might be thinking to yourselves. Well, De Leon — and colleagues Hiro Sasaki, Brandon Kim and Albert Ko — decided to do something about it. After contacting a few publishers to report the errors they were finding, they discovered that most publishers have no systematic way to collect error reports from readers. The inspiration for Typoze.com was in place.

Unlike Show Me the Errors at the Missourian, Typoze isn’t attached to any one publisher, and the errors that are reported there aren’t automatically corrected (or rejected). Instead, it’s a surrogate for missing error reporting systems at publishers’ websites, and it’s a social network with its own rewards. As a Typoze user, you can find any published book in Typoze’s Google Books-powered database, you report the error you found, you can comment on other users’ reports, and you can get feedback on your own. Over time, you build an official ranking and social capital within the community.

That last bit might be a nice feature to add to Show Me the Errors. Is there a way we could have on site an automated ranking that creates a bit of a horse race for users? Is there a way readers could report the errors on the site so that other readers could see them, and we could comment there too? It could then become a real community and a shared learning experience.

This panel included David Brindley of National Geographic, James O’Byrne of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and Robin Tribble of Popular Mechanics. They’re all deep into iPad apps for their publications. What we’re seeing on screen is spectacular, and the panelists are very clear that this is a new kind of editing. Imagine “moving pages,” and what that might mean for how copy has to flow onto these pages, and you can start to understand how complex this can be for editors.

I haven’t really bought into the tablet hype so far, but I might be changing my mind. Clearly if a fraction of new tablet owners start buying these publications’ apps — and they seem very compelling — there’s going to be new work for editors here. This might be quickly becoming essential experience for editing students, particularly in magazines. It’s good that we are on the cusp of getting into this with the iPad app for Vox.

Maggie and I think it went well. Leslie-Jean Thornton, the Arizona State professor I mentioned two posts ago, tweeted quite a bit from our session. There were a huge number of questions from editors at large publications, including (I think — it’s hard to read nametags from the front of the room) the San Jose Mercury News, The Boston Globe, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times, and from professors at Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon, Wayne State and Middle Tennessee State. I’m sure I’ve missed some. A few editors were skeptical, but some, including LAT’s Henry Fuhrmann, suggested that the skills we’re teaching on the interactive copy desk sound like the skills they’re looking for in young editors.

Two of the three editors of the AP Stylebook are here announcing changes to AP style, which become official for AP at 2 a.m. CDT tomorrow. I didn’t take comprehensive notes, but a few of the more salient changes:

  • email (not e-mail)
  • cellphone and smartphone (no spaces)
  • Kolkata (not Calcutta)
  • CPR (even on first reference)

Also, AP has officially abandoned a proposal to spell out state names in datelines — which disappoints me, actually.

I’ll reiterate a point I’ve made before, in class, and in another forum: If you don’t like these changes, don’t make them. AP style isn’t law. It’s the style the AP uses to keep its own copy consistent. Newspapers tend to adopt AP style as the path of least resistance for themselves, so they don’t have to re-edit wire copy too extensively. But any news organization that has copy editors and that finds itself editing AP copy anyway (for length, or because it’s not well-enough edited for their taste), can ditch AP style for their own house style. Most of the news organizations I’ve worked for have had extensive house style rules, tailored to their own readership. We probably won’t resist at the Missourian — there’s too much value in having our graduates know standard AP style, given that most news organizations will use it — but more power to you if you do.

This morning’s first session for me was by Leslie-Jean Thornton of Arizona State on how copy editing might evolve as content migrates to and evolves on the Web.

This, I thought, was a great point: Too much content online seems to appear automagically. There is often no process in place to ensure that nontraditional content — stuff that isn’t stories — meets our standards. In other words, gets edited. Copy editors need to step into that breach. We shouldn’t wait for someone to design a process that brings that content to our attention. We need to demand access to the systems that allows us to make that stuff right. We need to insert ourselves into the process.

Packaging is also a problem, Thornton noted. As the various pieces fall into place in templates automatically, editors often aren’t paying attention to whether they all make sense together. Many times, they don’t. How do we manage that packaging? Sometimes, it is actually impossible, given the configuration of our systems. But it can be so bad, it’s impossible to just let it slide forever. There is room for growth here and work for copy editors. We just need to make the case for how bad things are and help our newsrooms envision the solutions.

My second session of the day was titled “Twitter for Editors.” The session itself turned out to be a pretty straightforward introduction to Twitter, but I was able to jump into the Q&A afterward to share with people some of the things we’re doing at the Missourian. One question was: “What do we stop doing to make time for tweeting?”

That’s a question of priorities, of course. Those of you who’ve had been in editing class with me will be familiar with the concept of editing triage; some things are more important than others, and you usually can’t do everything. And yes, I’d put tweeting well down the list of a copy editor’s priorities (though not the news organization’s). But I jumped in to make this point: We’ve got to make copy editors more valuable. Clearly the top editors at many news organizations don’t value what we do enough, and so a lot of copy editors are losing their jobs. Taking on the task of tweeting for your news organization makes your job bigger, in a way that is likely to show results that will impress those same editors. We know at the Missourian that the more we tweet, the more we generate traffic to the website. Our analytics confirm that Twitter.com and direct referral (largely links via Twitter apps, we’ve surmised) are increasingly important contributors to our traffic.

After the session, Henry Fuhrmann, the assistant managing editor in charge of copy desks at the Los Angeles Times, introduced himself to me. He said copy editors at the Times have taken on the task of tweeting after hours, seeing it as an important contribution to the newspaper’s audience efforts and a natural extension of what copy editors already do. The Missourian, which places primary responsibility for tweeting on its copy desk, is on the right track, I think. And clearly, copy editors, learning to tweet well is a skill you can sell to desk chiefs.

Fred Vultee — a Mizzou Ph.D. and former Missourian news editor, now teaching at Wayne State University — offered a session on some of his research, answering the question “Do readers notice good copy editing?”

Vultee finds that readers notice when a story is well edited. They are particularly sensitive to details and good grammar. They are less sensitive to structural problems. Internal consistency is particularly important, but fine points of style are lost on readers. They expect stories to sound “professional” — better than what they could do themselves. Heavy users of news are much more sensitive to editing than casual users.

An interesting conclusion for Vultee is that editing varies by platform. Online readers seem to have different expectations than print readers. This might point newsrooms away from universal copy desks and in the direction we’ve taken at the Missourian: to separate production desks for print and online. How exactly do they differ? Online readers seem to have different expectations of story organization. They are more likely to see a well-edited story as badly organized, and they are more likely to see an unedited story as well organized. Vultee’s research doesn’t explain this, but I wonder if this speaks to the idea that online readers don’t want a traditional Point A-to-Point B story but need something more packaged and “nuggetized.” We may be hearing echoes of the Jakob Nielsen research on how online readers read and the need for us to more often do “scanner-style” stories online. It appears we might need different copy editors focused on print and online, working in different ways. I think that means more copy editors, not fewer, in a hybrid print-online news organization.

Vultee doesn’t claim that editing makes publishers more money, but if you consider what Mizzou’s Esther Thorson et al. have found about newsroom investments — that they do translate into revenue, probably because readers notice product quality — and you add Vultee’s observations that readers notice editing quality, you have the very beginnings of a case for hiring, not firing, copy editors.

Maggie Walter, a coterie of Mizzou students and I are at the American Copy Editors Society’s annual convention, hosted this year by the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University in downtown Phoenix. I’ll be blogging periodically throughout the conference. Friday afternoon, Maggie and I will be delivering a presentation here about The Transition. Stay tuned. (Now would be a great time to add The Transition to your RSS.)