Home > editing, links, news values, writing > Writing and editing for the web

Writing and editing for the web

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Peter Bradshaw has an excellent five part series on the basics of online journalism. Start at B and work up to S. A slightly pretentious University of Minnesota breakdown of the elements of digital journalism can be found here, while Tim Porter’s suggestions for new news values for new journalism are definitely worth a look. Cyberjournalist.net has a good list, with examples, of the various story forms that can be used online – think news packages, not news stories, they suggest.

Robert Niles on optimising your writing for search (this applies to editing too):

To place well in search engine results, an article must be sharply focused to the keywords that readers are likely to use in an effort to find the piece. To write such articles, I asked my students to put themselves in the position of their potential readers (never a bad idea for a writer!), then envision what one or two words and phrases a reader would use to search for their piece.

This forces the writer to (a) figure out just what exactly their piece is about and (b) narrow that topic to one or two key ideas. It’s a great way to clarify before writing a piece. Then, I asked the students to make sure that they used their keyword or phrase in the headline and lead paragraph of their piece, then several more times in the remaining copy, to stay on focus and keep the piece from wandering.

If the story’s moving into another direction, then you need another article. Hyperlink them for context, as necessary.

And that’s the second stage in writing well for online. Hyperlinking is essential, both to make full use of the deep context and background available on the Web, and to enmesh their work within the Web, increasing its chances to be moved up into the top pages for search engine results. In addition to keyword relevancy, an article needs inbound links from other websites to rank well in search engine results.

More on SEO and on linking here.

Linking is the backbone of the web, and it’s something many newspapers don’t do (for fear of sending away the eyeballs that advertisers value). In Jeff Jarvis’s famous formulation, newspapers should ‘do what they do best, and link to the rest’. He’s worth quoting at length on this one:

This ethic of the link will become all the more important as news organizations pare down to their essence. I’ve said often that they will have to do what they do best and link to the rest.

And I believe that it will become important for us to link to our sources and influences — as well as transcripts and additional reporting — to show readers how we arrived where we have in a story. When I was last in London, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger called this footnoting a story. He’s better educated than I; I’ll call it linkboxing.

Add that together and we end up with a new link layer atop the news: links to original reporting; links to complementary reporting; links to sources (not to mention links to and from discussions). It’s part of the new architecture of news…

To come back to the idea of data, Robert Niles argues in the Online Journalism Review:

Today, with the Internet, readers have access to the largest database ever assembled. That access is undermining journalists’ traditional role as gatekeeper to community information. But if we are no longer to be the gatekeeper of the world’s information, we can become great guides to it. Why not serve our readers by showing them the connections from the data we collect to other, related useful information that exists on the Web?

Scott Karp argues that link journalism can be original, investigative journalism, too. An interesting idea. And Ryan Sholin on five reasons news organisations need to link out.

So start thinking about what kinds of sources you can your stories to. Alan Rusbridger’s description of the link ethic being a form of footnoting is a brilliant one. What can you add to a story, in the form of links, to make it richer, stronger, more credible, more interesting?

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