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 (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 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,, 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 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.


Stacey A said...

Great debut! Way to go. And you can find time to blog, too. Best of luck with the site.

Brooky said...

Great "first" blog. Love reading your writing. Congratulations on the launch - your patience paid off, and good look with the site. Brooky