Archives for posts with tag: interactivity

(This is also posted on the Reynolds Journalism Institute blog)

The Missourian is wrapping up a semester-long experiment designed to improve the focus of our website production and change the definition of a newspaper copy editor.

The assessment: It works. The changes could be implemented in other newsrooms – but only if senior and assigning editors let go of the print control.

Like many newspapers, we’ve called ourselves “Web first” for a long time, but we knew we weren’t really when it came to editing. The Missourian’s production rolled along the factory assembling line from mid-afternoon to midnight. Meanwhile, the website came together sort of auto-magically, requiring minimal effort on the part of copy editors to select a fresh set of stories to highlight on the home page periodically.

We decided we needed a radical change.

In August, we segregated all print production processes from the day-to-day operations of the newsroom.

Most of our copy editors, most of the time, would have no involvement with the print product.

Instead, they’d become “interactive copy editors.” They would focus on getting stories to our website quickly and accurately, on finding ways to increase reader engagement with our work online, and on making sure the website is always putting its best possible foot forward. The work of a copy editor would be just beginning when an article published.

A small team of editors and designers, working separately, would manage all the details of the print edition, from story selection to final proofing, piggybacking as much as possible on the work of the interactive copy desk. They – not the managing editor, metro editor or senior news editor – would effectively “own” the print edition.

It has gone surprisingly well. We succeeded in resetting the rhythm of the whole newsroom.

We’re no longer focused on the paper tomorrow — the print team worries about that for all of us.

Instead we’re occupying news editors and copy editors with the work of producing the website 18 hours a day every weekday.

We actually made the mistake of continuing to staff the desk lightly on Friday afternoons and not at all on Friday evenings — as we have since the Missourian ended its Saturday print edition — but soon realized that Fridays had become just like any other weekday — busier than most, actually. We had to adjust.

Interactive copy editors are in charge of our social networks. They regularly use Twitter and Facebook. But we can be more creative and proactive in soliciting reader input for potential stories, rather than just the ones we’ve already posted.

Interactive copy editors also monitor the comment boards at the end of every article. They take down comments that violate our policies, and they jump in when the conversation demands a Missourian response. We think copy editors could do more in mediating conflicts among commenters and soliciting comments on stories that ought to be sparking them but aren’t.

We need to be better, too, at figuring out how to create energy and engagement on the website when the news by itself just isn’t doing it. All these are on our list for tackling in earnest in the spring.

The biggest drawback to the experiment has been the print experience of headline writing for our student copy editors. While they still do an evening print shift every three or four weeks, it’s not enough experience, especially when it comes to headline writing. Writing headlines for print — in a space strictly prescribed — is a skill that only comes with intense practice. It makes them better at writing headlines for the website. We’ll retool for spring to rotate more copy editors into print shifts and, on those shifts, to increase their focus on perfecting their headlines.

However, the benefits of our experiment, which we dubbed The Transition, have far outweighed the drawbacks.

Our website has improved tremendously and, with our interactively focused copy desk, we see room for much more. Meanwhile, our designated print team has done a great job maintaining the print edition. Their exclusive focus on print has even improved the product in some ways. (See print editor Jake Sherlock’s separate report on that aspect of The Transition.) We’ll try to perfect the experiment in the spring. Watch our Transition blog ( for regular updates about what we’re doing on the interactive copy desk and in other aspects of the Missourian newsroom.

Our story about the Columbia Daily Tribune’s plan to erect a paywall has about 2,200 page views as of this writing. Under the story, we’ve got several dozen comments from people expressing their intention to bring their conversation to the Missourian’s website, since the Trib’s comment boards will now be open only to paid subscribers.

Jake Sherlock piped into the conversation with this:


There’s nothing more exciting for me than to see so many new names contributing to the conversation here. A big welcome to everyone who said they’re coming here from the Trib. We hope you’ll enjoy the community here as much as you did at the Trib.

We do ask that you comment under your real name when you post here. We will occasionally email readers to verify that they are posting under their real names. We do this because we believe in openness and transparency. If you’re not comfortable saying something publicly, drop us an email at and let us know about your news tips, opinions and other matters that way. We won’t publish the contents of those emails in any way, shape or form under your name without your permission.

We look forward to reading your comments and contributing to the conversation.

Jake Sherlock
Opinion editor

Interactive copy editors and news editors, take Jake’s cue. Two important things happened there. One, we welcomed our new commenters with open arms. Two, we made clear our policy for using real names. We’ll probably have to be hypervigilant for a few weeks as folks used to commenting pseudonymously at the Trib migrate over to try us out. We want to encourage the new blood and fresh perspectives. But we also want to maintain the standards that we think help to elevate the conversation, even if it has the side effect of limiting it. Those of you helping us monitor the comments should consider this a call to arms to do both of those things, in as welcoming and personable a way as you can muster.

Good post here from MU alum and Memphis journalism prof Carrie Brown. I won’t steal her thunder, but this is the gist of it:

In (Ken Ward, Jr’s) blog, Coal Tattoo, he decided early on not to ignore comments. He said:

I handled it completely differently — I started out being very involved and hands on and interacting with readers. And, to a large extent, it drove the trolls away.

And this engagement has had a direct payoff in terms of cultivating leads from sources and material for stories.

One of the elements of our transition work that I think has been most effective is the idea that we’re actively promoting the big picture. The hub desk has been a crucial element in helping me see what’s on the agenda for any given day and how the ICD might be involved in curating that news.

When I was a teenager learning to drive, my father (then a UPS driving instructor) said getting the big picture was one of the most important lessons I could understand as a driver. I see it as one of the most crucial for our editing and reporting students, too. (There were other driving lessons, most of which I’ve selectively remembered over the years. I imagine our students might say the same about what we tell them.)

UPS uses a simple system for teaching its drivers how to be safe. The lesson on getting the big picture has to do with seeing what’s happening around you — being alert to your surroundings — and avoiding accidents.

And this semester, we’ve implemented a fairly simple system to guide reporters and editors on decision-making for our website. They’re thinking about the news that’s happening around them and noticing their surroundings. And we’re publishing stories quickly  by using Rim Fast, which was a huge culture shift for me.

Don’t discount the print desk in this “big picture” thinking either. Jake and his crew have added info boxes and more elements to a story that were then transferred to the website. I like that my Missourian print edition shows me exactly what’s the big news of the day — and that often means sports is in the mix.

The other UPS driving lesson that comes to mind with our transition is “Make sure others see you.” We’ve been doing a fair amount of that by tweeting and posting to Facebook. If you’ve got ideas about how the interactive copy desk can improve its social media role, I’d be happy to hear about it.

Transitions are rarely so clean as to have a discrete beginning, middle or end. Some of the projects within our transition, though, can have more finite targets.

Below you’ll see descriptions of some of those projects, followed by “launch date.” I expect some of these launches to change, or more interim goals added. But we all need a deadline, so I’ve attached them.

You’ll also see a name. Consider the person attached to the project as the primary coordinator. Plenty of other people will be involved. The coordinator will be at the point, and the one I’ll look to for monthly updates.

Here they are. Others will be added in coming days.


How do you make the news interactive? You get creative. Big, big props to the State Journal-Register for thinking of this.

I find this development at Gannett to be completely appalling. It seems the company is outsourcing its comment moderation to employees at software firm Pluck.

In one of the comments on that item, Matt Neistein (who Google suggests is the opinion page editor at the Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis. — a Gannett paper) hits the nail on the head for me:

Bad, bad idea.

This is just another step in the hypocrisy of the news industry’s future: Most every newspaper company realizes it needs to go “local, local, local,” but take every chance it gets to outsource news functions that should be local. …

Where does it stop? Why not hire a company to pick which letters to the editor run? Why not hire a company to produce your world wire page daily? Why have anyone locally do anything for a local newspaper, since everything can ultimately be outsourced?

This sends an extremely poor message to readers: We don’t have the time to read what you say. But hey, subscriptions can be found here! …

I’m hoping we’ll tack in the opposite direction here. Our new interactive copy editors should spend a fair amount of their time actually interacting — channeling reader conversations in fruitful directions and harvesting the feedback from commenters to better inform and improve our report.