- Every ICONN NewsStream editor should consider editing or enhancing every story with the following: headline, summary, copyediting, photos, charts and graphs, maps, audio, audio slideshows, video, and Twitter and Facebook.
- What you add to a story will depend on your time, talent, resources and imagination.
- At the very least, you should work on a story’s headline and summary; you should add highlights (or bullet points); you should check the story for grammar, punctuation and style; and you should add links.
ICONN NewsStream editors select, edit and enhance articles from member sites of the Intercollegiate Online News Network member sites. They also create original content for the network that is distributed through the NewsStream.
In enhancing content for the NewsStream, editors should consider the items and actions below.
This concept is called lateral reporting — expanding a story beyond its traditional boundaries by using the tools of the web. So take a look at these things:
The headline is by far the most important part of the story. It should be accurate, direct and specific. Good headlines take time, talent and practice. Spend the time, develop the talent and practice, practice, practice. Write a good headline. If you don’t, little else you do will matter.
Many of the headlines that appear on stories on member sites may be too local or could be structured better for a wider audience or to incorporate a broader level of SEO (search engine optimization).
Headlines must begin with a designator as to where the story originated followed by a colon. Example: TNJN: Rutabaga expert touts health benefits of vegetable.
JPROF.com has a few rules and guidelines for writing good headlines.
Excerpt is the WordPress word for summary. Every story needs a summary. The summary and the headline should work together to tell the reader what the story is about. An excerpt appears on the home page and section front pages of a website (but rarely on the story page), so its visibility is limited. Still it is an important vehicle for getting readers into a story.
A good summary can show off an editor’s talent for wrapping up the essence of a story in a few, well-chosen words. You can be clever. You can even show some attitude. But you should also give your readers information. You can find out more information about writing good summaries in this article on JPROF.com.
Add two or three bullet points of information at the top of each story. A good example of this form can be found on the story pages at CNN.com. Highlights should be as short as possible, usually only one sentence per highlight — or maybe even a sentence fragment. Make it two sentences if that’s necessary for the reader to understand, but those cases are rare.
Links and linking demonstrate the power of online journalism, and every reporter and editor is obligated to include links in their work that direct readers to additional information. Finding and integrating links — good links, not just any links — is a skill that every journalist must develop.
The links that you add to your stories can either be inline or in a “Related links” list at the end of the story. The inline link is a couple of words or a phrase in the story that is made into a link. Avoid making a single word a link; it’s too small and easy to miss.
The related links list is just that — a list. With both inline and related link lists, it should be obvious from the description or the context what the reader will find if the link is clicked.
You should copyedit the stories that you write, checking for errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation and style (AP style). You should never hesitate to change a story to make it more accurate, readable or efficient. On the other hand, you should not spend a major amount of time doing this. If the story needs a lot of editing or rewriting, chances are you shouldn’t be working with it in the first place.
Make sure the story is set up correctly. That is, it should be properly paragraphed, and there should be a line of white space between each paragraph. Word documents pasted directly into WordPress can cause weird formatting, so don’t hesitate to correct for those. If pictures are embedded in the copy, they should generally be placed on the right so that copy flows around them on the left. Pictures should have cutlines if you have the information, and they should be properly credited — again, if you have the information.
And make sure that it’s clear at the beginning of the story who wrote it and what site it comes from.
Does the story that you are working with have photos? If not, what can you do to add photos to the story? Well, there are several things to consider:
Government/public domain websites. Many government organizations have photographers on staff, and their photos are often posted and available. Two of the best are the U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Anytime there is a disaster where FEMA has to step in, there will be photos. And they remain archived online, so if you wanted pictures of the Pentagon or the World Trade Center wreckage on 9/11, you can simply download those. The White House, which has a Flickr stream of images, and the Department of State also post pictures that might be useful. The National Aeronautical and Space Administration is a source of some incredible photos.
Flickr/Creative Commons. Many photos that are posted on Flickr, Picasaweb and other photo hosting sites are made available for non-commercial use by those who take them. Even when they are designated in this way, you must always ask permission from the owner before using them.
Organization websites. Many commercial (and some non-profit) organizations will have media kits on their websites that will include pictures that can be used. Musical groups, for instance, will have sites for fans and often encourage the use of the pictures they post there. Again, if you have any doubt whatsoever, you can email a contact person and ask permission.
Fair use. Don’t depend on this part of copyright law too much, but there is some protection for using copyrighted material in news situations. These may include the use of logos and trademarks if they are directly related to what the article is about. One instance where this use works is the use of a book cover when you are writing about that book or its author. The safest thing is to try to get permission for any use, however.
Take you own photos. This is what we usually tell reporters, but it could also apply to editors in some situations. You may have photos in your own collection that would be useful to illustrate a story. You may be in a position to take photos that would be appropriate for the story. If either of those is the case, consider contributing your own photos to the story.
Charts and graphs
Charts and graphs are very specialized forms of information presentation, and you need to know what you are doing when you create them. But, if you have the data, you can create a chart relatively easily. Excel has an excellent graphing function, and you can also find a number of programs and websites online that will build simple graphs for you.
Remember the following about the proper use of charts:
Bar charts. These are good for making comparisons of data within a set or for two or more sets of data.
Line charts. These should be used only to show change over time. Amount should be indicated by the vertical axis, and time should be along the horizontal axis.
Pie charts. A pie chart should show the parts of a whole, and the parts are usually expressed in percentages that should add to 100.
Finding the appropriate data for building a chart — and understanding that data — is the hard part of including graphs and charts with your stories. Remember that one way to begin your search for data is to search “statistics and —–” and fill in whatever you are looking for. Google will bring up a lot of websites that have statistics of the topic you are searching.
Practically every story can be located. That means, as an editor, you should always consider the possibility of using a map. Simply naming a location does not give the reader much information. A map can help put that location, and the information with it, in context. Readers appreciate it, and it doesn’t take that much effort.
So, get to know Google My Maps. (You’ll need to have a Google account to be able to do this.) This is a neat, simple online program that lets you locate areas on a map and insert information about the location in a balloon-type window. Here’s a three-and-a-half minute video that will tell you more than you need to know to create simple maps that can then be embedded into your stories.
We are considering the idea of making a map mandatory for every story. What do you think?
Audio is an important tool of reporters and editors, and you should consider using audio whenever it is possible and appropriate. Audio adds a dimension to a story that you cannot get with any other tool of reporting.
Finding audio. Many organizations, companies and government agencies produce audio — sometimes they call it podcasts — and these audio pieces can be edited into clips that you can insert in the stories that you work with. They’re everywhere, but the trick is finding them. Like good reporters, you should begin to develop and store sources. For instance, the White House develops, stores and makes available audio files of many of the president’s speeches and statements. You should also search through Google to find audio files that you can use.
Editing and inserting audio. Editing audio files can most easily be done with a free, downloadable program called Audacity. You’re probably already familiar with it, and you should have it on your computer.
When you insert audio, you should use the logo and the player demonstrated below.
First, upload your audio clip using the Add Audio button on the top of your form for the story. The clip should be no longer than two minutes; otherwise, the file will be too large for our system to store it. Make a note of the URL of the file.
Second, the player can be accessed by using the following code, which you should insert in the proper place in the HTML after the logo:
<object type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” data=”http://www.jprof.com/audio/player.swf” id=”audioplayer1″ height=”24″ width=”290″>
<param name=”movie” value=”http://www.jprof.com/audio/player.swf”>
<param name=”FlashVars” value=”playerID=1&soundFile=http://www.iconnnewsstream.com/files/2011/09/Roys-Writing-Tool-1_-Begin-Sentences-with-Subjects-and-Verbs.mp3“>
<param name=”quality” value=”high”>
<param name=”menu” value=”false”>
<param name=”wmode” value=”transparent”>
The part of the code that is bolded and underlined is where you should put the URL of the audio file.
Audio set up in this way should have a short introduction that tells something about the audio and how long it is. If there is a significant part of the audio the readers may want to hear (At :36, the victim screams.), tell where it is in the clip.
Here’s what it all should look like:
Writing guru Roy Peter Clark discusses the value of writing with verbs (1:43).
Make your own audio. Sometimes it’s easier just to record you own audio clip for your story. Writing a 30- or 45-second audio summary for the story, recording it and inserting it near the top of the story will give the readers an enriched experience.
An audio slideshow is a marriage of audio and still images that comes out as a video. To review the basics of audio slideshows, take a look at this article on JPROF. If you have the material at hand and the wherewithal to do an audio slideshow, you should consider putting one together for your NewsStream stories.
Many argue that the best audio slideshows are those that use no narration but only the voices of the sources. You can form your own opinions about that, but here’s an excellent example: http://tnjn.com/2008/may/05/dairy-king-an-audio-slideshow/
As with audio, many companies, organizations and government agencies produce video and make it available on their websites so that you can embed it on your site. And don’t forget YouTube. (Who could forget YouTube?) You should check out YouTube to see if there is a video that is appropriate to the topic of the story that you are editing.
Here’s an example: We once picked up a story from one of our member sites on pet abandonment by college students. It was a good story on an excellent and relevant topic. What do you find when you go to YouTube (or Vimeo or other video hosting services)? Quite a lot. There are dozens of videos, television news stories, audio slideshows, public service announcements and the like at these places on pet abandonment. Most are embeddable without any restrictions. You should always (ALWAYS) give credit and some explanation as to where the video comes from and who produced it.
Twitter and Facebook
Is the topic of your story creating a buzz on Twitter? If so, find it and link to it.
Is there a page or group on Facebook devoted to this topic that your readers should know about? Find it and link to it.
Give yourself some credit . . .
At the end of each story you edit, you should have a line that goes something like this:
This story (article, package) was edited by Joe Student, a junior in journalism at the University of Backwater, in Backwater, Tenn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make your name a link if you wish, and link it to your website or some place where folks can get more information about you.
. . . and get out of the house
Now it’s time for you to create a little buzz. Twitter your story, post it on your Facebook page, your Linked-in profile and wherever else you can. Let people know what you’ve done.