Why it matters
• The Internet is the #1 news source. But there’s
great competition for eyeballs and web traffic.
These days, even copy editors need to be their
own entrepreneurs and promote their
newspaper’s content online. There’s no point
in having a great website if no one knows
• Writing Web Friendly Headlines
• Writing for the Web
• Social Media
• Embedding third party content
• Other Web-related advice
Hint: it’s different than writing for print
Writing Web-Friendly Headlines
• For each new WordPress post, you will be prompted
to provide a headline or title. Titles are as important
• Print headlines don’t always translate well on the
Web. Much news site Web traffic is driven by search
engines, so copy editors have to think differently
about Web headlines.
• When you write a headline for the Web, think about
what you would look for if you were doing a Google
search. Often that means cute and clever don’t work.
So, don't use puns, metaphors or wordplay.
1. Write clear headlines
• Instead you might need to be more literal.
You definitely want the key words in your
headline. And you don’t want to rely on art
or graphics to explain your headline. Titles
should be dead-clear.
• Again, think about a person typing search
terms into Google. Your choice of keywords
in the post title is of paramount importance
to the findability of the post itself. Every
2. Keep it short and sweet
• Stick to 5-7 words. Research shows online
users scan stories rather than read it in its
entirety. They’re impatient so keeping stories
and their headlines short is the way to go.
• Evidence suggests that Google pays greatest
attention to the first 60 characters of any
headline and many RSS feeds cut the headline
off after this too.
3. Make sure it can stand on its own
• While print headlines only appear in the one
place (duh), online headlines will show up
everywhere on your website in links, search
bars etc. so it must travel well on its own. It
also must work in a variety of platforms not
just the original news organization website
(consider RSS, twitter, Facebook).
4. Must make sense without context
• Online users should be able to read the
headline and understand exactly what the
story is going to be about. This means taking
into account the global reach of your story
and not relying on the users’ assumed
knowledge, images or the rest of the story for
it to make sense. This is probably why the
‘punny’ headlines so often seen in print fall
flat in an online environment.
5. Be clear and concise
• A no-brainer really as it’s one of the basics of
newswriting but it becomes even more vital in
an online environment when you’re trying to
make it easier for the impatient online user.
This means use a verb and simple, active
6. Write for search engines
• Search engine optimization basically means
you must anticipate the key words people are
going to type into Google and put them in
your headline. Pages that have the most
matches will turn up higher in the search
engine results. The higher up in the list, the
more likely your story gets hits.
7. Deliver what you promise
• Rather than write some exciting (and perhaps
misleading) headline, there needs to be a
degree of predictability so users will know
whether they will like the article before they
click. People do not return to sites that
promise something they do not deliver.
Bad for Web:
Not SEO friendly
and misleading. If
you were to search
for this story
online, you’d surely
include the word
“walrus.” If you
heard about this
story from a friend,
would you Google
words like “fat,”
“orphan” to find it?
but a bit too
esoteric for online. A
better headline is
found in the URL
Stern to Step Down as N.B.A. Commissioner in
’14. That headline
tells you everything
except the “why.”
The “why” is the
reason to click
through and read
the story. SEO terms
Stern and NBA are
ones that will bring
up this story.
GOOD: This headline is strong in that it uses active voice, does not mislead,
and contains several SEO-friendly words including "D.C. Sniper" and "Lee
Boyd Malvo." However, it is a bit long. Can you rewrite it to improve it?
World's Best Headlines: BBC News
• For several years, I've been very impressed
with BBC News headlines, both on the main
BBC homepage and on its dedicated news
page. Most sites routinely violate headline
guidelines, but BBC editors consistently do an
• Have a look for yourself: bbc.com. Visit the
site daily for a week and try to apply some of
the BBC editors' discipline to your own
• The average headline consumed a mere 5
words and 34 characters. The amount of
meaning they squeezed into this brief space is
incredible: every word works hard for its living
• Each headline conveys the gist of the story on
its own, without requiring you to click. Even
better, each gives you a very good idea of what
you'll get if you do click and lets you judge —
with a high degree of confidence — whether
you'll be interested in the full article. As a
result, you won't waste clicks.
• Look at the newspaper front pages posted on
the back wall. Find a few print headlines that
you don’t think would work on the Web. Cite
the print headline (tell me what it is, where
you saw it and what the story was about), and
tell me how you would rewrite it for the Web.
Omit all unnecessary words. Web journalists can’t
waste words, even though they don’t really have
limits. It’s hard to read much text on a computer
You can’t afford to bury the lead online. Tell readers
quickly what the story is about and why they should
keep reading – or else they won’t.
Also, use active verbs. Passive verbs bore readers.
Bored readers leave. Avoid redundancy.
One thing to remember is that the absence of space
limitations online should not be viewed as an
invitation to ramble on about things.
Editing the story’s body:
What comes after the headline
Use short paragraphs
• A 150-word paragraph looks pretty long on
a Web page. Long paragraphs send a signal
to the reader: This will require effort. The
writer expected you to have a lot of spare
time. Sit down and read awhile. Short
paragraphs send a different message: “I'm
easy! This won't take long at all! Read me!”
Also, consider using bullets and numbered
lists when possible.
• Hyperlinks allow the writer to provide a wealth of
related information to the reader, opening
gateways to source documents, related stories,
multimedia enhancements and much more.
• A link must give the reader a reasonable
expectation of what she will get when she clicks.
Linked phrases such as "click here" or "Web
page" do not provide helpful information, so
avoid them. Integrate the text of your story posts
with relevant links.
Don’t get stuck in the past
• Don’t just think of our website as an online copy
of our traditional, print newspaper product.
There’s a reason the Internet has become the #1
source of news – ahead of traditional media, like
newspapers, TV and radio. Because it allows
journalists to tell stories in ways they can’t in other
mediums. So, our content should combine text
with multimedia elements, such as photos, video,
audio and hyperlinks.
Use non-textual elements
Bring your story to life. Engage with your readers and
give them something they can't get in print. With
images, charts, graphs, video, etc. Even different font
sizes and colors.
Newspaper stories limit you. They’re usually one
dimensional, with just text. The Web allows you to
incorporate all kinds of different ways to tell a story,
not just through words.
Think about those other visual, non-textual elements
before you write your story, not after. Try to include at
least one non-textual element in every WordPress
Update site regularly
• If you just update the website when a new issue
is produced, readers will forget about your site
and stop coming back. You need to feed their
appetites. In this 24-7 media cycle, if you don’t,
someone else will and they’ll go elsewhere for
their news. The best news sites are updated
multiple times a day.
• All your posts need not be substantive. For
example, you may post an interesting photo
gallery or short blurb.
Provide up-to-date info
There are time constraints with traditional media. Many
student newspapers, for example, are published biweekly,
therefore reporters have to write their stories well in
advance of when they actually get published.
In Web journalism, you don’t face those same time
constraints. Publication is immediate. This is a big reason
why the Internet is a superior medium for journalism and
why carbon copies of things you may write for the
newspaper won't work well.
So, if you’re covering a event, write an online story about it
ASAP. Don’t wait to publish your blog post until a week
later, when it’s old news. If you’re writing about a sports
team, include the most recent stats and results.
Respect copyright law
U.S. copyright law does apply to ALL IMAGES you see on
the Web, on any Web page. So it is absolutely NOT okay to
copy an image (photo or otherwise) from somewhere
online and use it in your blog.
It is still NOT okay if you add a link to the original and/or a
photo credit line. Those do NOT constitute permission from
the owner of the photo. In fact, the U.S. Copyright Office
bluntly says: “Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted
material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”
The image does NOT need to have a copyright symbol or a
copyright notice to enjoy this protection. All published
works are automatically protected by this law — and that
includes ALL images online.
People are often interested in content that their
friends recommend or post links to on social
media. Having social media referrals will also
ensure your newspaper’s website is one of the
top results when people do searches on Google.
That’s because Google announced in 2012 that
social media referrals will be an important factor
in their search engine algorithm.
Why it matters?
Twitter is most important
platform right now
• Twitter is a social network focused on interests
rather than on friends, where users create brief
posts of 140 characters or less. Twitter users can
follow and view updates from other users (similar to
subscribing to a site’s RSS feed), send public or semi-
private replies or have private conversations with
other users. Users can also search the entire network
in real-time for interesting topics or breaking news,
organize their streams with “hash tags” and lists, and
even add photos or video to their posts.
Why it’s better than Facebook
• Info on Twitter is much more public than info
on Facebook. Since people don’t have to
follow or friend you just so you can see the
content they post, journalists find Twitter a
much better way to track down sources, dig
up more information on stories, crowdsource
content, get questions answered, push out
quick news blasts, and to take the pulse of a
community or topic.
Why Journalists Need It
• As an instant way to break news, Twitter has
changed the journalistic landscape.
• Reporters are using the social media platform
to find sources & story ideas, enhance their
regular coverage, engage readers, build their
audience & more.
• Here are a few key best practices that can
help you as a copy editor…
1. Determine News Agenda
• Twitter can be used to crowdsource headlines
and news judgment decisions.
• See what’s trending on Twitter, what people
in your community are talking about.
Discover Breaking News
• Twitter often breaks news before mainstream media
can report it. Therefore, journalists must follow
Twitter in much the same way crime reporters follow
the police scanner.
• Significant recent news events that were first
announced on Twitter include:
1. The Boston Marathon Bombings
2. The Royal Wedding Announcement
3. Whitney Houston’s Death
4. The Hudson River Plane Crash
5. The 2008 China Earthquake
• Twitter can be a powerful tool for finding
story ideas and keeping up with news about
your beat. If you’re a food critic, follow food
bloggers and restaurants in your area. If
you’re a sports reporter, follow local coaches
and athletes — who have been known to
break news on Twitter.
• Doing so can help you stay updated on what
your sources are saying, while increasing your
chances of finding story ideas
2. Find story ideas to assign
3. Find sources
• Find & capture reaction. Twitter is a great
tool for seeing how people are reacting to
news. Sometimes, reporters will capture
people’s reactions in my stories.
• Find experts and local sources. Twitter’s basic
search tool is good for searching key words,
but let’s say you want to find out what people
in your local community are tweeting. You can
refine your search by using Twitter’s advanced
search page, which lets you search by
location. By typing in your location and a key
word, you can find related tweets anywhere
between 1 mile and 1,000 miles of that
location. (There’s an option for choosing the
• If you find local people you want to interview,
follow up with them on Twitter and ask them
to send you a Direct Message with their
• Twitter is a solid starting point. It doesn’t
replace traditional shoe-leather reporting; it
just helps you find sources you may not have
otherwise come across. It’s up to you to
follow up with the sources you find and, when
appropriate, interview them.
• Research through crowdsourcing. Twitter is
great for soliciting help with projects,
especially when you’re strapped for time.
• For example, investigative reporter Wendy
Norris used Twitter to seek help with an
investigation in response to anecdotal reports
that pharmacies across Colorado were locking
up condoms and therefore making them less
• Instead of doing all the reporting on her own, she
tweeted: “Heading to the grocery/drug store this
week? Join fun, stealth crowdsourcing project.
No disguise needed. DM me if you’re in
• This tweet, a Facebook post and an email led
Norris to recruit 17 volunteers. The volunteers
went to 64 stores in one week to find out
whether condoms were locked up. They found
that 63 of the stores sold condoms, and most
made them readily available. With the
volunteers’ help, Norris disproved the rumors in
4. Build your audience
As a journalist, it’s your job to spread the word.
So be sure to use links in your posts. Twitter
found that journalists get 100% more active
engagement when a URL is included.
• Hashtags can increase engagement with other
Twitter users by almost 100% for journalists
and 50% for news organizations. Using
hashtags is also a great way to report or
follow breaking news. When you include
hashtags in your Tweets, your Tweets become
more visible and you have a better chance of
For example, Fox News (@FoxNews) uses hashtags to
identify the subject of its tweets and to join the wider
conversation on Twitter about that person, place, thing
@cite your sources
Including Twitter handles of the reporter who
authored a story and the sources mentioned in
the story can also help increase engagement.
In this Tweet, The Guardian (
@guardian) includes the
Twitter handles of journalist
Emma Brockes (
@emmabrockes) and Julia
Kozerski (@juliakozerski), the
subject of the article.
Talk to readers
• Thanks to the Web, readers can interact easily
with news outlets. They want to be engaged.
Pose questions on Twitter. Respond to people
who follow you on Twitter or who retweet
5. New Trend
• Increasingly, when journalists now write
headlines for the web or for social media,
they specify the medium or format involved.
They shout VIDEO and AUDIO in caps at the start
of the tweet or post; MAPPED or INFOGRAPHIC;
INTERVIEW or LIVEBLOG.
• Sometimes the medium or format is implied
more subtly, with a call to action: we urge users
to ‘Watch’, ‘See’ and ‘Listen’. But we also invite
them to ‘Join’, ‘Meet’ and ‘Find out’.
• Why do we do this? Part of it is that we
recognize that the medium is something
special; that users often make a choice based
on the medium itself.
• But I think putting the medium/format front
and center is about more than just user
preference: it’s about abundance and
• In a market of information abundance, of
copy-and-paste reporting and opinion-as-
journalism any content with an original
element is unusual.
• Remember those headlines you wrote for the
web? Choose one and tweet it. Utilize the tips
we discussed. This may require doing some
research, such as locating Twitter handles for
sources and reporters. Include our
#DJNFTex15 hashtag, so I can easily track your
How to embed content into your
online news stories
• Embedding content, such as individual tweets,
can be a clever way of illustrating news from
important (verified) sources.
• Content must be public or it won’t display
• It’s always a good idea to take a screenshot too,
in case controversial posts from public figures
mysteriously go missing…
• Include a headline and caption or blurb. Don’t
just post social media content without context.
• Embed the following social media
content into a WordPress post on our
–Facebook post (requires plugin)
• Create a Storify about a particular topic or
event. Embed the Storify into a WordPress
More tips for copy editors doing online journalism
If you’re pressed for time…
• Consider using a free social media syndication,
such as Tweetfeed, which will automatically
post your website’s latest headlines to various
social media platforms.
Treat different social media
• Facebook and Twitter are not
interchangeable. Twitter, for instance, works
well with breaking news. Facebook users are
more apt to click on posts with images.
Understand the differences.
• Although it’s true that you can easily and
quickly fix mistakes online, readers notice
sloppiness whether online or in print.
• If you look at any mistake and look at the
comments, you’ll find people who say it’s a
very big deal. You can’t be cavalier about it.
People get vocal if they think the level of
editing has dropped.
Make one last read
through your copy
• As with print stories, once you think you’re
done, whether you’re editing a blog post or
posting a tweet, read it through yourself, not
for rewriting or fact-checking (this comes after
fact-checking). This final read is just for clarity,
voice, spelling and grammar. For instance, in
reading through this PowerPoint before
publication, I caught a you’re in a paragraph
that should be your.
• Editing for ethics has always been important; good copy editors
recognize and support this even as they edit for online.
• “You don’t get a pass from ethics or common standards of accuracy
and decency just because you’re writing fast for the Internet,” says
John McIntyre, night content production manager and former copy
desk chief at the Baltimore Sun. “The reader is entitled to know
how you know what you say.”
• McIntyre, a charter member and two-term president of ACES,
emphasizes accuracy and verifying sources as primary ethics
concepts for online editing. “Anything not from direct personal
experience has to be sourced. And you have an obligation to check
out your sources to make sure that you’re not, say, repeating
something from the Onion (satire website) as a straight story, or
from some wacko conspiracy site.”
When in doubt, go without
• News may need to be posted quickly, but if
there is any question about whether that
news is accurate, don’t post it online.
Learn your newsroom’s
policy on social media
• One reason social media can be especially tricky for
journalists is that unlike written stories, most social
media posts don’t require advance approval from an
• A recent American Journalism Review survey found
about half of newsrooms had specific policies on
staff Twitter usage and the other half didn’t. Those
that did not give reporters specific guidelines
included outlets such as BuzzFeed, Gawker, The Wall
Street Journal and The Baltimore Sun.
• NPR says in its handbook: “You should
conduct yourself in social media forums with
an eye to how your behavior or comments
might appear if we were called up to defend
them as a news organization.”
• The Seattle Times tells its reporters to “talk to
an editor/social media team” if they think
they’ve offended someone with an insensitive
• The News & Record says “don’t say anything
to a source, reader or acquaintance that
would seem inappropriate if made in person,
by email, face-to-face or when published in
the News & Record, NewRecord.com or a
Create value: train others
• Training is a great way to demonstrate your value in a
Digital First newsroom. Copy editors should be teaching
their colleagues and community bloggers the skills they
have learned (and are learning). Lead a workshop in self-
editing or in writing SEO headlines. That may seem
counter-intuitive, like you are trying to help the
newsroom get along without your copy-editing skills. But
training demonstrates your value and underscores your
expertise. If your newsroom is changing or doing away
with copy-editing positions, the person who’s teaching
editing skills is going to be a strong candidate for another
position (and may seem almost indispensable).
• Whether you do a lifestyle blog for your
website about a hobby or blog on your own
time for colleagues about copy-editing issues,
blogging can help your career. A copy editor’s
best work often goes unnoticed. Calling
attention to a big mistake you caught is a
great way to make enemies. Headlines don’t
carry bylines. But a blog is yours. It’s your
chance to stand out, show some personality
and show your value as a digital journalist.
himself as a
in copy editing
thanks to his
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