Q&A with Chrys Wu, editorial strategist

Chrys Wu is a journalist and editorial strategist who specializes in connecting users and media outlets. Her reporting and editing work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online, including the Los Angeles Times and LATimes.com, washingtonpost.com, National Geographic Traveler, KCRW.com and WNYC.org.

Wu blogs at Ricochet, and you can follow her on Twitter. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Wu discusses what she does, how newspapers use social media and what the future may hold for journalism.

Q. You describe yourself as a social media and multiplatform content strategist. What does that work entail?

A. I help media outlets answer questions: How do we engage our audience? What are our best bets to do that given our resources? How do we reach our business goals while honoring our editorial mission? What can we do to shape the future — not just for the company, but for the industry?

Q. How has your experience as a copy editor informed your current work and other aspects of your career?

A. As a copy editor, I saw my role as the reporter’s champion and the end user’s advocate. My goals were to deeply understand the story, question any holes, and shape the content into something informative (and, when appropriate, fun) for the end user.

I was lucky to have direct access to the people who originated the content, whether they called themselves reporters, designers, journalists, photographers or bloggers. Not only did that give me broad exposure to lots of different stories and storytelling methods, I learned how different people work, think, see and hear. That’s been very informative, and it’s helped me be more rigorous and flexible in my own approach to problem solving.

Q. Newspapers have increased their use of social media to attract and engage readers. What are they doing well, and what could they do better?

A. In general, reporters, bloggers and editors have been doing a good job of using social media tools to reach readers where they spend their time. Some have been better than others at humanizing themselves and giving people a window into the news gathering processes.

Several are doing a good job at crowdsourcing stories and getting readers involved at the very start of a piece all the way through its end. I’d like to see news outlets do more to integrate what people are discussing or showing on social media sites into the stories they produce, no matter what form: text, photo, video, audio, interactive, etc. I’d also like to see more coordinated efforts within an outlet or collection of outlets to increase reader awareness of projects and reporting that might not otherwise get noticed.

Q. As the traditional media struggle financially, what do you think the future holds for news?

A. If we were doing this as a phone or in-person interview, I’d be laughing right now. There will always be news.

What I think you’re asking, though, is what the future holds for news as an industry. To really address the question, I’d write a treatise based on P&L sheets, behavioral economics, market projections, societal values and competitive pressures.

But briefly, I think in the U.S. and other places with widespread Internet access, we’ll see brand names in news shed more workers. We’ll probably see more papers go Chapter 13, more TV stations cut news shows, and more towns lose newspapers altogether, at least in physical form. But there will always be something to take its place.

One of the bad trends I’ve seen over the years is an increase in “me too” reporting, especially in celebrity news. No online outlet wants to give up sure-bet traffic, and frankly, people expect the biggest outlets in town will have those stories. But when everybody has the same story, it becomes overwhelming, especially if there are no new facts in what’s reported. You’ll see more public complaint about that. As for what news outlets will do, it’ll depend on whether or not management is willing to embrace linking.

We’ll probably see more news sites turning to blog formats to display their content. You’ll see fewer big investigative pieces, but more crowdsourcing of small ones and wrap-up reporting to pull those bits into “the story so far” overviews.

The smart organizations will figure out which beats to cover and figure out ways to fill gaps. And I think that’ll come from buying content, or collaborating with other reporting organizations, reporting startups and public efforts.

We’ve already started to see news outlets change the way they break news, and I think that’ll continue. But if you want to be taken seriously as a news source, it’s more important to be accurate than first. Yes, you want to be fast for all sorts of reasons, so if all you’ve got is one rock-solid sentence, get that out there. After all, online and on mobile, you can constantly update what you’re sending out.

Even if copy-editing jobs disappear (which, sadly, I think they will), a copy editor’s skills of critical thinking, synthesis, analysis and fast writing coupled with general and specialist knowledge will be very valuable assets to any organization, particularly when it comes to breaking news and investigative reporting.


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