2 Aug 2014

Don't "just publish it online"

Everyone knows that there's a finite amount of space in newspapers. Editors have to fill so many pages - and so there's quality control to determine what fills these pages. This leads to better quality, as the lesser stories or features are replaced by the ones better suited or more interesting to the reader. Simple.

Things are slightly different online. Many are blown away by the seemingly infinite amount of 'space', and this can lead to issues. People - bloggers, journalists and editors alike - will publish anything online to make the most of this, which can be seen by looking at many news sites in the UK. Pitches are likely to be gobbled up and stories thrown up online for the sake of more hits.

Does that mean we should publish anything online? The answer is too obvious to state, but then, why are people doing so? There is an unhealthy obsession with hits in the journalism industry, which prevents people from taking full advantage of the opportunities the digital age grants us.

If journalists paused for a second to think; if they slowed the incessant conveyor belt of uploading a sub-parr headline-picture-text article: they could create pieces which were innovative, engaging, and fully in-tune with what modern journalism should aspire to reach.

The digital age offers articles a plethora of advantages, most of which boil down to one key concept: interactivity. If section editors put in the time, they could team up with the newsroom developers to create an interactive map plotting crime statistics to go with a story on crime rates. They could build an interactive graph which allows the reader to grapple with the data surrounding a particular story. Or, more feasibly, they could quickly embed a related video, or a couple of tweets, to capture facts or opinion in a different, accessible way.

Any of these options create a story which is much more engaging for the reader. They will end up spending longer on the site, as they are retained by the content. Rather than creating a passive experience with a hastily hacked-together piece, they engage with your content in a pleasant, interactive manner.

Of course, I'm not encouraging an entire newsroom to grind to a halt as they spend hours on ensuring each and every article has two videos, six tweets and an interactive timeline embedded into it. However, a little more consideration about how on online article can actually take advantage of its nature of being online - instead of merely throwing up every text-based pitch after a rushed proofread - would allow editors to improve their output tenfold.

We need to stop the obsession of "hits for hits' sake", and remember what a little bit of TLC can give to an online article. Uploading anything online degrades the very process of being published online. A motto of "a free story written is a free story" is no good. It's this which makes journalists feel like being published online isn't as good - in actual fact, it's better than being published in print.

Some online editors need to change their attitude towards online publishing and distance themselves from the idea that quantity is best. The monotonous cycle of hacking together a headline, picture and text, uploading it as quickly as possible, and throwing a link up on social media needs to be tackled head-on. By embracing the digital age, and the tools that it provides to the journalist, online pieces will become hugely more valued than static print. Online stories are better for their accessible, interactive and gripping nature, as well as their potential for hugely significant audiences, and it's time editors start to fully embrace this by employing more resources into online quality-control and management than they do in print.


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