Guest post: Saving journalism one copy editor at a time

Students in my Advanced Editing course are contributors to The Editor’s Desk this semester. They are free to write about whatever they wish, provided that the topic fits the theme for this blog: “thoughts on editing for print and online media.”

This is the 12th of these guest posts. Elizabeth Templin is a second-year master’s student and Roy H. Park Fellow from Charlotte, N.C. She has focused on news writing, editing and multimedia during graduate school. She hopes that she will find ways to save journalism in a new job.

Newspapers have been in the news a lot lately. In case you haven’t heard, newspapers across the country are having a hard time staying financially afloat. Publishers are taking steps like laying off staff, creating online-only editions and outsourcing copy desks. With all these changes, it’s a good time to think about the future of copy editing and ask what role copy editors play in saving journalism.

Even though the future of journalism is uncertain, there are a few things copy editors can do to help out.

1. Copy editors can play a huge role in attracting readers to newspaper Web sites.

Newspapers have got to find ways to make Web sites generate more income, and one way to do that is by increasing readership, which is measured in page views or the number of pages visited by individual readers. Copy editors can help bring readers to Web sites by writing great headlines and story blurbs.

Copy editors writing headlines for the Web should go beyond writing the clear, catchy headlines that appear in print editions. Online headlines should be noun-heavy so that when the average reader is searching for information, such as “Obama puppy,” on a search engine like Google, they are directed to the newspaper’s Web site.

Copy editors should also make sure that headlines make sense out of context – away from the accompanying text, pictures and cutlines – since a reader might first encounter a lone headline on a search engine or RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed.

Once a headline has drawn a reader to the newspaper’s Web site, a well-written story blurb can help turn one page view into many more. Similar to drop heads, story blurbs are one or two sentences below the headline that give readers a sense of what the story is about. Good story blurbs are timely, highlight key information and provide details that pique reader interest.

2. Copy editors can look for ways to present content in alternative story forms.

In print editions, alternative story forms tend to be more engaging to readers than blocks of text. For Web sites, alternative story forms can take engagement to the next level by creating opportunities for reader interactivity, like clicking on a map, viewing a slideshow or taking a quiz.

3. Copy editors can allow reporters to break the rules of journalism in blogs.

More reporters are using blogs to instantly update news stories and communicate with readers. While making sure that a newspaper’s blogs are accurate and free of embarrassing errors is important, overlooking some journalism rules is OK.

4. Do what copy editors do best.

Copy editors play a big part in guarding newspapers’ credibility by ensuring that published content is accurate and error-free. In doing this, copy editors ensure that newspapers earn readers’ trust and offer readers something your average blogger may not: reliable, fact-checked content.

These are just a few ideas. What else can copy editors do to save journalism?