If you’re reading this there’s a decent chance that you Googled ‘editorial management tools’ and are deciding which content management system to try with your team. Every day we speak to people who are also looking for ways to organize editorial calendars, plan their content strategy or make their editing process more efficient. Most of them want to save time, improve communication and produce more content, but last week someone asked us this: “do people who use your system say that it helps them produce better content?“.
A qualification like ‘better’ assumes criteria that are going to be slightly different for everyone who produces original content. Then you have to pick who to listen to: the audience, who vote with their pageviews and engagement metrics, or perhaps the authors, by monitoring their sense of growth and satisfaction every time their byline appears?
Let’s say that when a commercially-driven editor or publisher is looking for signs that their content quality is improving, they include these key indicators:
- fewer mistakes (typos, quote accuracy, etc.)
- content that gets shared more
- better adoption of editorial style guides (e.g. using media, AP style, etc.)
- characterful headlines and story angles that grow the brand
The goal of the best editorial management systems should be to address all or most of these general needs. But beyond feature-based benefits like being able to track writers’ activity, prompt them with advice, incentivize good performance and keep everyone on schedule, there are habits that most ambitious newsrooms need to succeed. Streamlining your editorial process to save time and scale content production is a sensible objective, but what can you do to ensure that you’re not outsourcing your editorial management and abdicating responsibility for your core competencies and competitive advantage over other publishers?
Here are some key criteria for successful newsrooms that we’ve observed over four years of working with editorial teams of all shapes and sizes.
Consistent use of high quality photos that are thought-provoking and can operate in isolation or together with a headline, without requiring the rest of the story. We know that striking photographs and other media (e.g. videos) capture a wider audience than text on its own. Traditionally, these items would come together in the form of a ‘package’ that would be fed into a ‘package’ for print, web or app publishing. A key aspect of all these assets now being hosted on different platforms (e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Vine) and assembled instead of all natively living in one place is that each atomic piece of content can be shared on its own. This means two things: content assets you produce yourselves should be relevant to audiences in isolation (i.e. alienated from its original package) and whenever you upload your original work to a third party service, always make sure it includes your brand and/or indication of copyright.
Senior editorial staff cast a wide net for new recruits and carefully select their key editors. Freelancer networks like Scripted, Ebyline and Contently offer freelance writers and editors the chance to work for multiple publications with ease. We typically see publishers and agencies hire a core team (usually no more than 20% of their editorial staff) and supplement it with access to networks of contributors to make sure that they can cover niche interests quickly and scale up their volume of production at short notice. Looking at Camayak’s own network of freelancers, we see ‘power users’ make up around 5-10% of the total number, which isn’t an unreasonable ratio of managing editor-to-freelancers for running a newsroom, provided the one or more chief content strategists you hire are top notch.
Contributors always speak to other people (e.g. interviews), to enrich their story or argument. This is a basic principle in journalism and one of several that brands and agencies depend upon when hiring contributors out of news media to work on corporate, sponsored or public relations content.
Avoiding ‘filler’ content (aka: ‘less can be more’). Whether its page inches, daily post quotas or other volume targets, scaling an editorial operation can often introduce threats to the quality of the product itself. Audiences are open to forming very close bonds with content providers, so every time they’re faced with material that feels token, half-baked or simply not interesting enough, they can feel that their loyalty to your brand may be misguided. If you’re looking for tips on going digital first or are considering downsizing your print edition to give it more impact, don’t forget what your unique objective is in serving your audience and prioritize what they’re going to find interesting about the story you’re working on.
And finally. We asked a senior editor at a national UK newspaper what they felt the best editorial management tool they used was. “We have a collection of powerful tools and without them we frankly wouldn’t be able to put out the amount of work we’re doing” she answered, “but if you’re talking about ‘tools’ in the abstract sense, the most critical skill we’re having to emphasize is what a good story actually is. There’s a sense that plenty of writers don’t actually understand what makes a good story.”
Update: for more tips on managing an editorial team, follow us on Twitter or schedule a free consultation with one of our product designers.