Monday, July 2, 2007

Copy Editors and the Web

A few months ago we did a series of interviews with bloggers, asking them why they blogged, who their audiences were, etc.
Today we're starting an occasional series about copy editors, their newspaper web sites and related issues.

We start the series with Jonathan McCarthy, editor of

Q. What can copy editors do to make the transition from working only for the print publication to a combined print-web work?

A. Many copy editors are already doing the work that helps make web sites go; they just may not realize it. Good web sites rely on good headlines and tight copy. In our case here at Newsday we have asked copy editors to think a little differently about how headlines work and what might make a good web story. Aside from the copy, anyone in the newsroom should take some time to find out as much as possible about their site’s audience. That will aid them in understanding what works and what doesn’t.

Q. How will producing stories and editing for the Web change work done for print?

A. It should make work done for print more relevant. By relying on the web for breaking news, stories for the print edition should be more analytical, longer and useful. In its best model, a good web site makes a good paper better.

Q. Do copy editors need deep technical knowledge to work for most newspaper or magazine web sites?

A. I don’t think so. Content is king, regardless of the medium. Copy editors should familiarize themselves with SEO (search engine optimization) and how it works, but most papers and magazines have content management systems that allow producers to focus on the content, rather than the technology used to post it.

Q. To your knowledge, are stories frequently being posted without much copy editing?

A. I think this happens in various degrees in newsrooms around the country. Usually it is because newsrooms either haven’t fully embraced the web production shift, meaning that the copy desk still comes in at night while peak traffic is during the day on the web or because the race to be first has left the copy editing process behind. The first reason can be fixed and the second can be overcome with the right model.

Q. I've found many reporters and editors eager to get started with web assignments as long as their print work isn't damaged by the extra workload. But they seem unsure of how to take control of their work. What can journalists do to find their way onto the web?

A. The best thing anyone can do to take control of his or her work on the web is to become engaged with the Internet. See what your competitors are doing. Think about who might want to read your work and how they might find it. Promote your work on the web by getting it linked in blogs and message boards. Suggest multimedia ideas (videos, audio, photo galleries).

Q. Are newspaper blogs accomplishing what other non-newspaper blogs do? Are they an afterthought or are they getting the attention they deserve? Do they stand up on their own as journalism?

A. Some do. There seems to be two types of traditional media blogs. The first is a blog were the author just gets it and spends time making the blog useful, intelligent and worth reading. There are plenty of blogs that stand up in that way. (See The Swamp (Tribune), Spin Cycle (Newsday) or Pop Candy (USA Today).

The second is the blog written by a print reporter because it was assigned to them. These are the ones that don’t work. This happens with a lack of training and bad execution. Blogs should be seen as a privilege, not an assignment. Only then will you get the content you’re looking for.

Q. Are there any reading studies that can tell us whether people are reading or absorbing information on the web differently from what they get from print?

A. We’ve done some readership studies here that have shown us that what people are looking for on the web is different than what they expect to find in the paper. You can also check out the Poynter Eye-Track research to see how users see the web differently than the paper.

Q. I've heard complaints from reporters around the country that some people writing for web sites aren't informed about the subject. Do you think that's correct? If so, will that change as more print people start producing directly for the web?

A. The problem with the web is that anyone can pose as an expert on anything with a simple blog post or web page. That being said, reporters should embrace the immediacy of the web and look for ways to use it to help them be recognized the experts in their subject matter.

Q. Anything else you want to say to copy editors or other journalists?

A. In many cases, newspaper web sites need to have higher standards since the stakes are higher. Yes it easy to fix a mistake if you make one, but it is harder to remove that mistake from Google or other search engines. In many cases, protecting the trust that is associated with the brand is job one. Copy editors play a large role in establishing that trust in print and it is only natural that the same process is translated onto the web.

UPDATE: The Washington Post outlines its philosophy about its web site.

1 comment:

Andy Bechtel said...

Thanks. This is very informative and helpful.

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