Tuesday, December 4, 2007

About Ledes and Webster's Dictionary

Do you remember the ledes you hated most as a newspaper editor?

Mine go something like this…

Webster’s Dictionary defines an accident as something that happens accidentally, meaning no one is really at fault. That’s kind of what Sally Jones thinks about the accident that caused her to lose her mind.”

And me to lose mine!

Ok, yeah, Sally Jones is fictional. But I was a newspaper editor for years…and believe me, I saw my share of “those kind” of ledes. (And yes, I know the word “ledes” is an old-fashioned newspaper word. But hey, given that I am an old-fashioned newspaper editor and given what everyone is saying about newspapers dying soon, I feel the urge to use old-fashioned newspaper words before they -- like the industry and old newspaper editors like me -- go off to a more heavenly home.)

Anyway, getting back to my point, which was definitions. This blog entry isn’t going to talk about Webster’s Dictionary. (Thank God, you say.) But it will do some defining for newspaper folk who want to learn more about the Internet, which I will remind you is what I now do.

And nooooooooow (Dating myself, but insert Johnny Carson-type intro here)………. Definitions for today.

Bounce rate.

No this is not the way an annoying reporter bounces after you’ve thrown them – and their grammatically incorrect story – down the stairs and out the building, screaming madly, over and over “Strunk and White, Strunk and White, Strunk and White,” at the top of your lungs. Actually, it’s less violent and more complicated – and not nearly as funny. Bounce rate is defined as how often a user goes to your site, looks at one page and leaves. If he or she sticks with it, you’re in luck. And so is your site. That kind of user is good, good, good. But what isn’t good is a user who looks at one page and leaves. He or she then adds to your “bounce rate.” And that makes the editor want to scream madly all over again – though “Strunk and White” is not exactly what she had in mind this time.


Ok, sounds like something an old newspaper editor would know right? When I was the editor of the Times-Recorder newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio, (Yes, Virginia, there is such a place, and it has a Y-bridge, a Zane Grey Museum and a riverboat called The Lorena, if you can believe it) we did this all the time. We worked with another company, let’s say Longaberger, for example. (Ok, it’s a stretch to think the Disney of basketmakers would work with a newspaper on any project, but let’s just play along shall we.) Anyway, both companies get together, put their name on a banner, hang it in a park and have a shindig for the community to celebrate…well…something. And a good time was had by all… Co-branding right? Not on the web. No sirree. On the web, co-branding is a little more complicated. It goes something like this. We start a niche web site. Because we hire great journalists and a fabulous editor, (ok a little plug for the writer here), we get great content and publish it online. Some Internet big dog looks at our content and decides they like it so much they want to use it – on their pages. We agree to give them the good content, which is built into their pages. And because they get lots of people on their site, we get more traffic.

And because we get more traffic…. a good time was had by all.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Welcome to the Web Beat

Two weeks. Two weeks. Two weeks.

I've been saying that for three months. That's when I took this job as editor of an Internet startup.

It was a leap of faith for someone who has spent 20 years in newspapers -- the last two as one of the top editors at a fast-paced metro market in the northeast.

I worked in gray suits. Before I put down my briefcase, I'd have journalists at my door asking for help with their latest stories or, more likely, free Folgers from my communal coffee pot. And my day was spent managing the coverage of major news events, from bank mergers to state-wide shooting sprees.

Today, the dress code requires jeans. The gourmet coffee is provided free, made by the cup and has names like "Jet Fuel" and "Wake Up Call." And the first person morning is not a person at all. It's Willie, a golden retriever who belongs to our CEO Cotter Cunningham, formerly of bankrate.com. (Willie was kicked out of doggie day care, so now he's got his own bed by the back door of our office.)

I still plan, assign and edit content. It just doesn't have a thing to do with paper.

Tomorrow we flip the switch on the first content site, which is exciting because I've run out of excuses about why it's taking so long to get the thing up and running. The last few weeks I felt like I was back in high school trying to explain why my homework wasn't done. "Uh, well, the dog ate it?"

Given Willie's predilection for eating the paper out of my trash, I might have been able to get away with it back then. But the truth today, which feels just as silly, goes something like this: talk-work-technical problem-talk-work-another technical problem-talk-work-dammit can someone fix this technical problem? Honestly, it felt a lot like a newspaper.

So here we are two months later than we planned, and
Divorce360.com is finally ready for launch. (Who knew the first site would be one that focused on, of all things, divorce? Wasn't going through it once enough?)

Three months ago, a traditional newspaper editor took a job as the editor of a web-based content company. It's been a fun and frustrating ride. And along the way I've laughed a lot and learned a lot and realized that the two industries aren't so different, really. Among my discoveries over the last few months:

1. A NEW VOCABULARY. Who dreamed up the term "search engine optimization" anyway? (My apologies to my old friends Merriam and Webster, but this definition wasn't in your online dictionary.) According to Wikipedia, SEO "is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via "natural" ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results." Which gets me to my next lesson....

2. TRANSLATION SKILLS. For all the traditional newspaper journalists shaking their heads and saying, 'What the %#$&* is she talking about?" Let me translate. Remember that circulation department downstairs -- the one you occasionally take calls for when a reader's paper doesn't show up? SEO is the web term for circulation. The better it is, the more eyeballs see the stories. Simple as that.

3. NEWSPAPERS CAN DO THIS. After only three months as a web editor, I'm convinced of at least one thing. Newspaper companies can do this. All they have to do is look to their newsrooms. Some of them have. But for those struggling, I'd suggest thinking of it this way. At Thomson, we called it, "Reader Inc." At Gannett, it was "Real Life, Real News." Whatever newspaper company you work(ed) for and whatever name you gave it, we've all published niche content -- we just did it in print.

4. EVERYONE BLOGS. The last year at my traditional newspaper job, I was asked to lead a group of female journalists in the creation of a web site for women. As part of that effort, I wrote a blog that focused on in women in the workplace. A year later, I give up my traditional print job to take a web job, and I discovered that everyone blogs -- or wants you to. There's even a company, Pluck, that's syndicating bloggers in an effort called Blogburst. (For newspaper folk, it's like Associated Press for bloggers, and your newspaper company may even be using it.)

"What can I write about?" I asked Paula, our marketing guru, who shook her head at me and then tried to explain corporate blogging. What is that, you ask? Online marketing consultant Debbie Weil,
www.debbieweil.com, has defined it on her web site and in her recent book, "The Corporate Blogging Book: Everything You Need to Know to Get it Right," which you can purchase -- like I did -- at Amazon.com. But I'll edit it down to the basics. Corporate blogging is the art of writing about your company through your own unique lens.

My lens is simple. I used to be a newspaper editor. Now I edit an online site. Welcome to my new beat.

This is my first post. With any luck, they'll get better as we go.