Archives for posts with tag: alternative story forms

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.

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.

Prop B is probably the most contentious issue on the November ballot. The charges and counter-changes have run wild. Claims true and false are all over our comments. The un-rabid defenders/accusers don’t know what to think.

A few verified facts would help, right?

At the 3 pm meeting Thursday, John Schneller said offered three journalism units:

  • A narrative article that he described as “fine but nothing special.”
  • A QnA on the difference between existing law and Prop B.
  • A chart doing much the same thing.

The latter two were described as superior to the article.

So what appeared in the lead position of the home page and the front page Friday morning?

The article.

The comparison was the sixth item under “best of the rest” on the home page. A reader wouldn’t know there was a chart unless she made it to the bottom of the QnA.

The chart didn’t make it into the print edition.

The article was pretty much as billed. It was technically fine. It had a nice anecdotal lede with someone who isn’t foaming at the mouth followed by background on puppy mill raids, quotes by opponents, etc. Nice story that I could have read a month ago or six months ago.

The QnA and chart were far from perfect. There was redundancy, for instance. The chart had nary a single hyperlink to original material except for the actual language of statute and proposed statute. Neither answered all my questions. But at least it attempted to clear some of the fog from this thing.

What I need now is clarity on the issue. What I got was driven by a master narrative in which “mainbar” and narrative article are synonymous.

Hello from Albania.

Yesterday I met with the creator of the 10-day-old online-only opinion publication ResPublica.al. It’s intended for an upscale, intelligent audience of influential types in Tirana.

The editor, Mustafa Nano, came up with a standing feature called “MSN interview.” It’s a QnA, but done via instant messenger.

Why?

Well, he complained that the intellectuals he interviewed would go on and on and on in a face-to-face interview, but would get right to the point with instant messaging.

And viola! He went to an IM feature.

I’m NOT advocating this as a replacement for actual interviews, folks. But it’s a fun, quick little feature, eh?

(ps: I’d link to it, but it’s in Albanian, and I don’t think y’all read Albanian.)