“Online journalism is about more than just writing”: Chris Green, Editor, IT Pro


IT Pro Editor Chris Green has written a very good post regarding the changing nature of online journalism.

(In tune with the zeitgeist, he says he was prompted to write the piece after he made a Twitter comment about his traffic/contributor analysis – and I and others asked him for more detail).

Specifically, he highlights things that he believes freelance writers will need to consider and change their working practices to incorporate. If you substitute the term “PR” for freelance writer, much the same principles apply.

For example, on SEO, Chris says: This is key to the future of online publishing. All writers, whether they are in-house or freelance need to understand the importance of making copy search engine-friendly. That means understanding how search engines interpret content, how they look for keywords and what relevant keywords are popular at the time of writing and publishing. Writers also need to track the online zeitgeist to understand what search terms, themes and trends are popular, in order to incorporate them, where relevant, into an article.”

PRs also need to adopt a similar methodology and mindset.

On Content Seeding – CG: “With publications looking at the audience traffic an article receives as a measure of success (as well as looking at traditional elements such as whether it is well written, accuracy, relevancy and how current the information is), the writer needs to take on some of the responsibility for promoting that article and extending its reach. That means seeding links to content to relevant locations where the links will bring in additional traffic. Also, think about whether the piece you are writing will appeal to the audience of the popular social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Slashdot, StumbleUpon and Reddit. We want readers to submit your content to these services, and it is in the interests of the writer as well for readers to do this.”

The role that PR can and should play in “promoting” relevant editorial content is an interesting one. Or what role PR can have in helping the journalist create the content in the first place.

On comment Generation – CG: “Your piece needs to spark debate among readers. It needs to encourage them to post comments, engage and debate other readers on that site. The conversation should not end with your final paragraph, but should stimulate the reader to participate in the conversation, add knowledge and share alternative viewpoints.”

The PR debate about “conversation” has raged for some time. PR will have an increasing role to play in encouraging and helping clients to get actively involved in these kinds of fora.

On Multi-skilling CG: Online journalism is about more than just writing, it is about providing complete coverage in the most appropriate media form, and doing it in as timely fashion as possible. You are covering an event for a publication; you need to consider visual elements as well as written. Think about how you can incorporate video, audio and images into the piece to maximise the effectiveness of the piece. Waiting for images to be sent over from a company or PR agency may be counterproductive to publishing a timely and informative piece, so be prepared to take your own photos, shoot your own video and record audio content for inclusion in a podcast. You don’t need thousands of pounds of equipment to create audio or visual material that is suitable for publication.”

I absolutely agree with Chris that the tools to produce multi-media content are now cheap and easy to use (as are many of the traditional tools used in PR). But the tools are only 10pc of the issue = it’s the 90pc of skill/training to produce quality content that matters – and who is going to fund the training in these new areas? Simply taking a good print journalist and asking them to suddenly acquire top notch audio and video content skills is a big ask. And is everyone capable of being a great all-rounder? Eg I have a great face for radio.

Some other thoughts:

I wasn’t sure from Chris’ post whether he is assuming that all traffic is equal? eg in the case of IT Pro, are IT Directors more “valuable” in traffic terms than a junior developer? i.e. is it possible to reward a writer who attracts a smaller but high value audience (in terms of value to potential advertisers and/or marketing partners)?

I also wondered whether the traffic/performance measurement analysis and reward process applied to Chris and his editorial staffers rather than just freelancers ;-)

Anyway – read Chris’ full post – it is worth the effort.

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