Rylan Miller is Contributors Editor at Business Insider. In this interview, conducted by email, she talks about her job and how the site uses headlines and social media to attract readers.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like at Business Insider?
A. I manage all of BI’s syndication partnerships and guest writers, which is an editorial job with some elements of business development mixed in.
My team has three main responsibilities:
- We help choose the stories we will publish from our 370-ish partner publications, wire services, and blogs;
- We package these stories so that they fit perfectly with Business Insider’s style;
- And we act as the gatekeepers — I like to envision Gandalf shouting “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” when I say this — of every article that is republished on the site.
We ensure that editorial is following all of the partnership rules and industry courtesies when syndicating.
This job has a lot of moving parts, but for me, that’s part of what keeps it interesting. Some days I spend a lot of time talking to our point people at companies like Slate, Condé Nast, Wenner Media, and more. Sometimes I focus on teaching our editorial team what syndication is and how to do it the right way.
Other days I like to dive into setting up posts, which means formatting them so that they look great on BI, writing catchy headlines, and picking photos that really pop on the main page. Sometimes I tinker with formatting in our CMS, and I frequently study our analytics.
I have learned more about the world of online publishing from this one job than I ever thought possible. It’s really a fascinating mix of journalism, psychology, business, and management, and perfect for a generalist like me. It’s fun to know what’s happening in just about every section of the site, and — important job perk — people want you on their team for bar trivia.
Q. Headline writing for digital media is seeing a shift from SEO to “shareability,” as demonstrated by sites like Upworthy. What is Business Insider’s approach to headline writing?
A. One of our editor’s mantras is that headlines should “get clicks without being annoying.” It’s very easy to tease someone into reading a story online—I’m sure we’ve all fallen for the “7 Things That Will Completely Change Your Life” headline at some point.
But when you actually read the article and see that the headline is hyperbole, skewed, or a flat-out lie, you start to resent that publication. I think BI does a great job of getting people interested while also delivering a great story.
As a site that does breaking news, features, photo-centric slideshows, videos, syndication, and now longform, there really isn’t a magic formula for how we write headlines. Above all, we consider the reader and what he or she should know immediately before we think about SEO and “shareability.”
If a headline isn’t working for us, we can change it. The priority is still focusing on writing (or in my case, choosing) excellent stories that are worth sharing in the first place, and then pulling out the most interesting nugget or angle for the headline.
Q. Business Insider is active on Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn. What is the organization’s social media strategy?
A. Every single person on editorial puts in effort when it comes to our social media policies and strategies. Each section is responsible for maintaining and expanding their own Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and relationship with LinkedIn if it’s relevant. They also have to make sure their best work gets pushed out to BI’s main Twitter and Facebook accounts. We have a small bit of oversight at the top of this chain, but for the most part we rely on common sense and good news judgment when deciding what gets shared.
We’re constantly assessing what’s working and what’s not when it comes to our social media strategies, and I think that’s served us well so far. Everyone gets a chance to put in their two cents.
Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012. What’s the most important thing you learned there, and what have you had to learn on the job after college?
A. As someone who’s not in a traditional journalism job at a 100 percent digital news outlet, I’m surprised every day by how much of what I learned at j-school is still relevant to what I’m doing now. I’ve realized how important it is to have that solid foundation in place before learning new skills on the job.
Copy-editing classes taught me how to be nitpicky (in a good way) while reading through articles. My business journalism classes taught me basically everything I know about the industry I’m in now. Media law gave me a good understanding of where we can get photos, who holds copyright on freelance stories, and how to not get my employer sued for dumb mistakes.
I also cannot overstate how much I’ve learned on the job. I’d say most of what I’ve learned is in the technical and strategic aspects of how a news website functions. I’ve learned how publishers can work with each other to expand and improve, and I’m continually discovering what people feel compelled to read. Despite what you’re hearing, people aren’t solely interested in “reading” GIFs. And finally, I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Serial Comma And All-Caps Headline.
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