Thursday, April 19, 2007

A blog challenge for copy desks

We're at the ACES national meeting in Miami this week. On opening session day, Thursday, Nicole Stockdale and I presented our session on "Blogging for Editors." It was a packed room and great questions -- we covered everything from the basics of blogging to Furl and Creative Commons License, with a little citizen journalism thrown in.

As usual, Nicole was mahhhhhvelous, explaining the ins and outs of how it's done on Dallas Views, the editorial blog of the Dallas Morning News.

Thanks to the great audience, too.

Now, a challenge from me for copy desks everywhere.

We didn't get to this in the session, but my challenge is for every copy desk to create a copy desk blog. There's a bit of a cheat in that last set of links. Because such blogs are scarce, I've pointed you to a couple done by copy editors in conjunction with their day jobs. But I'm talking about a group blog, one in which everyone or nearly everyone participates at least once a week.

Take your time, do it slowly. Line up willing people (not necessarily volunteers) and start it internally only if your IT department will set it up for you that way (if not, most blogging services, such as Blogger, have settings that can make a blog less public).

  • Each person should have to post once a week. Set a schedule so it isn't all one day.
  • Topics should be about language and similar issues the desk has dealt with (headlines, too, and good references and how to use them)
  • Explain the problem and how you solved it
  • Get in touch with teachers and reference librarians and let them know this new local language resource is available (and, of course, link to other useful language sources on the Net).
  • Respond to comments from what I suspect will be a lot of 10- and 11-year-olds, but also from 22- and 33-year-olds. As traffic builds, approach management in the ad department and inquire about getting some Google Ad Sense ads placed next to the posts.
  • Ask the ad people to see if a local bookstore wants to buy an ad specifically touting its reference collection .
The signficance isn't just that you're blogging. What you have done is translate yourself from a cost center to one that may generate a little revenue. No, it won't likely cover your costs. But it will signal to the upper ranks that you understand how to play in this new game. That's a very good thing in these changing times.
And here's the reaction from the Testy Copy Editors' board being predictably, well, testy.
To clarify a couple of the points they've made:
  1. The "offshoring" argument is a red herring. Your bosses, if they want, can already send those offshore folks your style guide. It's called "e-mail/attach." As for a competitor's "offshored" desk, is there really that much interest in your style guide. Dang. That would make the NY Times and US News stylebooks worth how much? And all those local styleguides I have -- a mint. Methinks there's a little bit of inflated importance here.
  2. The "extra work" argument is bogus. Yes, we're all overworked (I ran an AP desk for nine years -- tell me about it). But you probably already exchange e-mail and come to a conclusory post internally. It takes five minutes to cut and paste and clean up anything that needs cleaning.
  3. So many blogs would mean dilution: Interesting thought, and I considered it. But I'd argue that your local folks would much prefer to hear from you -- their local paper -- than me. Or Nicole. Or Bill. Or John. Gee, if things are so saturated already, then I better sell this blog and phone it in.
  4. The person who wondered how it could be producing "revenue" when I suggest it probably won't cover your costs. Please tell me you don't edit business copy. Revenue is not necessarily the same as profit. How about this -- you'll produce cash flow instead of being a cash drain. Yes, you are a necessary expense -- at least I think so. But you have a damn harder time making the case when you are only a drain.
  5. Anonymity: OK, that I understand. But as journalists, that's becoming less obtainable in the digital age, so get ready for the day your digital editing signature is attached to the copy as well and is machine readable so I have full transparency as to who handled the story.
  6. This is not "tantamount to publishing drafts." You're having a conversation about how you came to the style conclusion you did or the grammar point or -- heaven help us -- actually answering some readers' questions. You're not giving away the crown jewels.
  7. "But most readers are probably not all that interested in the finer points of what we do." Which shows a misunderstanding of what the Net is about. It's not about "most" people -- it's about caputuring those people who are interested and monetizing their interest.
I don't expect everyone to madly fall in love with it. It's a challenge to look at your desks, your staff resources and personalities, and make an informed decision on how you can get into the game. Maybe there are some other ways, too.

The bottom line is the bottom line. You have raw material. It can be turned into something useful for the entire organization because it has the potential to be monetized. In doing so you make yourself a player. In not doing so, copy editors make themselves spectators to the rest of what is happening around them.

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At 4/25/07, 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the idea of a copy desk or night desk blog. I just put the idea out to some of our nightsiders with a copy of this blog entry to gauge the interest. For all I know something like this may already be in the works. But it sounds like something many of us would enjoy and definitely learn from. Thanks,
USA TODAY Sports copy desk

At 4/25/07, 5:47 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Cool! Let us know how it goes.


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