Archives for posts with tag: interactive copy editors

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. (more…)

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.

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.

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.

Here’s another link relayed via Jacqui Banaszynski: a cool-sounding job posted by MinnPost.com. The job title is “assistant Web editor,” but this sounds an awful lot like the interactive copy editor job we’ve been shaping here at the Missourian.

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.

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.

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.