Editing in the digital age

Editing in the digital age

April 18, 2019 By Carrie Pinkard, Online News Association University of South Florida St. Petersburg Conferences

"We aren’t creating content for dumb people. We’re creating content for distracted people,” said presenter Teresa Schmedding, illustrating a focus of ACES 2019.

Times have changed, and they continue to change rapidly. The public has access to content at their fingertips. Editors must be prepared to react and adapt as quickly as their cursors blink on a Microsoft Word document.

To keep up with these rapid changes, editors need digital skills. Editors can no longer get by with simply being a grammar guru or style sensei. Editors must have a wide variety of digital tools in their virtual tool belts.

ACES 2019 conference presentations by Schmedding, Dana Sitar, Allison Morrow, Regina Mahone, and others included tips on editing in the digital age.

Schmedding, managing editor of Rotary International, discussed the importance of creating content that people want to click on.

She says content should be searchable, digestible, clickable, and shareable or it’s a waste of time. There are too many shiny distractions on the internet; only distinguished content gets attention.

Chunky pieces of text are more readable, and white space makes it easier for finicky readers to scan.

Only 16% of people read word for word, according to Schmedding. This means that important stuff belongs early in the article. Formatting should focus on the reader’s experience. Anything that makes an article easier to consume is probably a good idea.

The Penny Hoarder’s Dana Sitar uses this reader-first mantra when it comes to links.

Links are extremely important in digital content. They help to backup sources, to funnel traffic to different parts of a site, and to facilitate search engine optimization.

“What’s better for the reader experience is better for SEO,” Sitar said.

Readers tend to feel less wary of clicking on easily understood links. Anchor text — the text that includes the hyperlink — should explain what readers are clicking on.

It’s important that newsrooms and businesses that produce content spend time focusing on social media, she said. Social media is the best way to get eyes on a website.

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts are the bare minimum. Every time an article goes on a website, it should go on social media. And this promotion should not be an afterthought, but an integral part of the content creation process.

When working on digital content, one should factor in how it will appear on social media and use strategies, from the story’s headline to its conclusion, that are “share-worthy.”

As the lead social media producer at CNN, Allison Morrow understands the value of shareable content.

"I think a lot of newsrooms suffer from thinking of social media as an afterthought. The internet can’t be an afterthought anymore. Video can’t be an afterthought," Morrow said.

It’s not enough to have great content and be present on social media. It’s also important to know how to communicate with a team digitally. More and more, people are working from home and freelancing, so figure out the most effective ways to talk with them.

Slack is one of the digital communication tools mentioned by multiple editors at the ACES conference.

Regina Mahone, editor at, uses Slack to communicate with her team. She gave the audience a few “Slack Hacks” as part of a panel.

For one thing, she suggested taking breaks from Slack, “Slackatacions,” to prevent getting overwhelmed. She also suggested creating non-work-related channels and putting in keywords to get notifications when certain things are mentioned.

It might feel like a lot of work to keep up with the latest trends in digital communication, but the basic skills build on one another. And while digital tools take an increasingly prominent role in the editorial process, as long as humans write for human audiences, there will be a place for human editors to select and apply the tools in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

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