How to learn editing/newsroom best practices?
November 29, 2014 6:19 PM   Subscribe

I stumbled my way into an associate editor position a year ago with no previous media experience, and have now been promoted to managing editor at the site. I'm successfully doing the job, but I constantly run into places where I wish I knew how "proper" newsrooms handled things. How do I learn?

For background, the website is a small but rapidly growing niche online publication (trade in topic but consumer in voice/focus). 16 months ago I went from being their 3rd IC contributor to their first employee. We now have ~15 regular ICs, and a PT associate editor and soon PT production assistant who both report to me. We run ~18 stories a week from all over the globe.

The website was started by two of my friends, neither of whom really had any media experience previously, beyond a bit of freelance writing by the guy who was doing the editor work before me. Wicked smart creative people, but rather unorganized, and neither of them are much help in terms of figuring out systems/best practices.

By dint of being the organized one and having taken a few business classes or whatever, I am now responsible for basically running every aspect of editing and publishing the website and working with contributors, while they help occasionally with story editing but focus mainly on ad sales, biz dev, special projects, and more creative site posts.

I've gotten us to a pretty decent place using hipchat and email to track our process (each story gets two sets of eyes and we do pretty active editing), but we're getting to the point where we need to have things like a more robust editorial calendar / pitch system, clearer idea and task tracking, better coordination between our editorial team (melbourne, west coast US, east coast US) etc. I've also developed an editing relationship/approach with our contributors and my other editors based pretty much entirely on my own intuition. I feel like I'm trying to figure out solutions for a lot of things that I'd already know best practices for if I came up through a newsroom.

I know the answer is probably to just keep muddling along and learn as I go, but are there any resources out there to help me learn the things "everyone should know" about things like:
-What an editorial calendar system looks like and how it should be run
-What are standard levels and styles of editing that web ICs expect (other than none...)
-How publications generally handle pitches (everything from timelines to internal review procedures)
-Etiquette and Ethics questions around working with PR people
- on and on and on
posted by MetropolisOfMentalLife to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I love your thinking and I really wish I could lend some current knowledge, but my newsroom know-how is much too dated for you at this point. As far as philosophies and ethics, though, I would point you to the Columbia Journalism Review and On the Media as groups giving sophisticated thought to your industry. They are worth putting into your regular weekly scan routines.

I can't suggest anyone personally, but I think you would get excellent advice from people who edit arts/culture weeklies. Most major cities have one or more. They may offer good insights into your structural needs because they're generally fairly small shops, depend a lot on routines and systems, use a ton of freelancers, and have to make it all work fiscally to survive. I suspect a friendly call or email to editors of organizations like that in your area would pay off. Offer to take them for lunch or a beer. The editors of these papers form a nice community themselves and I think you'd be able to find a few helpful people. To find some resources, maybe check out the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.
posted by Miko at 8:35 PM on November 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Honestly no idea if this is a best practice, but for the college feminist web magazine I manage (we run ~6 new posts a week and have around ~15 [part time/volunteer staff]) our editorial calendar is a two tab google spreadsheet. On one tab we have all "in-progress" pieces, with column's for a piece's working title, author, editor, deadline, status, etc. to keep track off all pieces that are being worked out.

The other tab is our posting schedule, which I fill out with a co-managing editor every week, where we lay which piece will be published on each day, who's responsible for copy-editing/scheduling, etc.

In terms of our general process, we use submittable to receive/accept submissions. Then, we a couple staff members who are responsible for doing first reads of pieces, rejecting those that are not workable, and then bringing the rest to a weekly editorial meeting where editors can claim pieces to work with an author on. Editors/contributors usually go through 2-3 rounds of edits (either through Google docs or tracked changes in Word), our art team finds an appropriate image(s), and then editors upload the piece to our CMS where I or my co-managing editor copy-edits, makes sure the piece is ready for publication, and schedules it.

Hope this is somewhat helpful -- feel free to reach out to me with any questions. I'll be watching this thread to see what other advice folks have!
posted by kylej at 12:05 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Read Poynter and Romanesko. Poynter often offers online classes on journalism ethics and skills. But keep in mind that each publication will have its own version of best practices (in the new media era these are not universal) and that certain types of pubs (newspapers, for example) will have a different set of standards than, say, trade publications.
posted by Brittanie at 5:23 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, try the Poynter Institute; here's their online training page with self-directed courses. Can't vouch personally for the quality and they don't make clear the cost for most classes, but they do seem to take that part of their mission seriously, and are often a go-to source for ethics questions from other journalists.

Romenesko is great but it's more a media gossip site (and was for a while hosted at Poynter before they fell out). Good for taking the pulse of the profession a couple times a week, but probably not really what you're looking for.
posted by mediareport at 10:21 AM on November 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh man, thank you so much everyone for all this helpful info, it's really appreciated.

The Poynter stuff in particular is exactly the kind of stuff I need, rehashes of "what everyone should know", even if it doesn't address the larger newsroom/new media questions as much, probably since that's all in such flux it seems.

The Submittable suggestion is great too, I'm doing a demo now--I think this might fit in really well with a Trello calendaring/editing queue tracking system I'm trying to put together.

Thanks y'all! Would love to hear anything more anyone has to say.
posted by MetropolisOfMentalLife at 11:20 AM on November 30, 2014

Here's a cool Wordpress + Google Docs Workflow from the people at the Bangor (Maine) Daily News that eventually evolved to include a story budgeting tool (watch the video!).

I haven't used the plugin and the system (we're using Drupal), but I borrowed heavily from that while setting up a Google Docs + Google Sheets workflow and budgeting system (in case we ever get the resources to hire a developer to copy the BDN's system in Drupal to go full auto).
posted by notyou at 4:03 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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