Copy editors take on Web duties: Lessons from Day 1

Posted by & filed under Daily Nebraskan, Editing, online journalism, Search engines, Training resources.

The Daily Nebraskan has joined countless papers around the country and integrated its Web and copy editing duties. Tonight was the debut of our new copyflow, and while we hit a couple bumps, it’s been relatively easy.

In keeping with my desire for more collaboration among student news outlets, I figured I’d give you the lowdown on what’s changed and the few tidbits of wisdom I’ve picked up on so far.

A comparison

Then: A Web department staffer would copy and paste all the stories from InCopy to into our CMS each night. It was pure shovelware: No outbound links, no related stories listed at the end of the story, no Web-first mindset.

Now: Copy editors who edit the stories also upload them to the Web, allowing us to make time for adding hyperlinks and related story boxes. Plus, stories get posted hours earlier than before.

My two cents

Make a step-by-step guide complete with screen caps

The more detailed, the better. If you’ve worked in WordPress or another CMS before, learning a new system can be easy-peasy. But I’m guessing this will be a first for more than a few of your staff members, so make things as painless as possible.

If you’re working in College Publisher 5 (like us), you realize the system has plenty of tabs and buttons. It’s usually easier to show rather than just describe them.

I’ll admit, It’s not exactly fun to put a detailed guide together, but multiple staff members have told me they like to have ours on hand as a reference. One who’d never worked on our site even used it as his only guide to upload a story while I was in class and no one else was around to help him. The copy editors who I’ve trained keep it in front of them as they upload stories, too, so it looks like it’s getting used.

Be flexible – and let others know what’s going on

I made a flub by not letting all the other section heads know that the copy desk would be taking on a few more duties tonight. A seemingly impatient editor can really frazzle a copy editor’s nerves, so ask your section heads to be understanding as your desk gets the hang of things.

Getting people to show up can be half the battle

Scheduling a training session with 10 people is never easy, and I had a less than 50 percent attendance rate at our first one. However, I did a second session later that day, meaning I only have a few editors left to meet with. Plan in advance and advertise the mandatory meeting like crazy.

Stress that this will be a resume-building experience

That’s no lie, either. A recent post by Mindy McAdams (@macloo)and a year-old classic post by Greg Linch (@greglinch) both highlight the need for journalists to have a diverse skillset. And if you’ve worked in one CMS, it’s much easier to learn another. If it’s between you and another internship applicant, you never know when your Web skills might just give you the edge. That rationale can be a good morale-booster if your staff feels a little hesitant or overwhelmed.

Nothing will ever go off without a hitch – and that’s A-OK

When you alter your newsroom’s copy flow, try to avoid any foreseeable problems, but realize some will pop up nevertheless. Each night will be a learning process, so relax and enjoy the adventure.

An unexpected perk

You might get better headlines out of the switcharoo

I’ve struggled to help copy editors see how Web headlines differ from print headlines. It seemed my handouts and e-mails weren’t doing the trick. So I was pleasantly surprised that the headlines on the site tonight were much more in line with what Web headlines should be. And I didn’t do any in-depth training on it, either.

I did give them a short list of pointers:

  1. Be specific and use keywords.
  2. Kill the cute stuff. (Search engines don’t grasp puns, plays on words, etc.)
  3. Be clear and concise.

But I’ve given this same advice before and haven’t seen nearly as same results. My working theory is that copy editors take more ownership of their Web headlines when they’re the ones putting them on the stories. Whatever the reason, I’m psyched to see more SEO-friendly Web headlines on

(P.S. Thanks to Lauren Rabaino (@laurenmichell) and CICM (@CICM) for their suggestions on Web-headline handouts. I ended up borrowing these bits from Journerdism’s slideshow.)

So how about you? Do you have any tips from when your news organization consolidated editing duties? Did I fail to answer a question you had about our new workflow? Comment away!

  • laurenmichell

    Emily, this is a great post! I was working on a draft for a related topic and will definitely refer back to ya.

  • Emily

    Looking forward to reading your post, Laruen!

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  • Sara

    This looks great. We’re looking to do this next year at The Daily Tar Heel and this was helpful. I might e-mail you later if I have more questions!

  • Emily

    Glad you found it useful, Sara. Definitely e-mail me if you need anything.

    Something tells me the DTH will be a might force to be reckoned with next year with you and Andrew leading things.