Posting breaking news and getting content web-ready

While I didn’t have anyone from the public come in today and take advantage of my expertise at the Community Media Lab in Ypsilanti, I did work with a new employee so he could begin posting his own content and breaking news online.

My new reporter, Jim Pruitt, who covers government, learned how to convert Word docs to text files and size down jpgs for the web, write SEO-friendly headlines, add links to related coverage and websites referenced in stories, and embed video, locator maps and photo slideshows. He also was encouraged to share those links on our social media accounts as soon as he posts the stories, and engage readers regularly via social media about his news coverage, seek story ideas and crowdsource.

All of our reporters have the ability to post their content immediately and it’s something I encourage, but not all feel comfortable doing it and that’s OK. I will accommodate them. I know some editors cringe at the thought or have slight reservations, but my thinking is I’d rather get breaking news and important content online right away, and not delay it in the editing process. Editors are often very busy working with several staff journalists, freelance writers and editing community contributions. Sometimes that can delay the posting of important news by hours or even a day if they’re on print deadline, and breaking news can get buried in a sea of stories waiting to be edited.

As copy editor of The Saline Reporter, Milan News-Leader and A2 Journal, as well as all regional content for eight publications, I’ll come in a few minutes, hours or a day later to clean up my reporters’ stories. They’re all professional journalists and their content is in pretty good shape. The facts are right, but often I am fixing grammatical errors, AP Style issues, sentence structure, paragraph transitions and other minor problems. If the story is more controversial, in-depth or could have legal ramifications, they are encouraged to give it to me or another editor before posting it online. Since we print just weekly, the content is cleaned up before our pagination process and we go to press, although there are always minor errors that we miss — and often our readers let us know about them.

I think online readers are a little more forgiving than print readers about misspellings and grammatical errors — and I wonder if they even know the style rules, which mostly have to do with consistency in how words are presented. I think online readers realize that we’re trying to get out the story to the public as fast as possible, whether it’s coverage of that evening’s city council or school board meeting, a car crash, major disaster or some other type of breaking news. Unlike our weekly print publications, where it takes a week to make a correction, we can fix a mistake immediately online. It’s important, however, to let our readers know when we make a big fix and not just a minor spelling or grammatical correction. I usually add an editor’s note, and then share the link with a comment on social media that a correction has been made.

I am curious to know your thoughts on this issue. Should reporters be trusted to post breaking news online, as long as an editor comes in to clean it up shortly after, or do you think all content needs to be run through the copy editing desk before it’s posted? As our world has become more tech savvy and the desire for information immediately has increased, I think we, as editors and journalists, have to be more accommodating and change our work flow to meet our readers’ needs.

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