When I moved from a newsroom to Media General in 2001, it was a little like getting out of a river’s rapids and walking along the bank instead. I was close enough to still feel the water in the air as I watched those still on the river pass. And once in a while I’d call out, “NO, PADDLE LEFT! LEFT!!” but they didn’t hear me. Or maybe they did. Who could tell? And I would sometimes think, “Gosh, that was fun … but it’s kind of dangerous,” and when a big election night or something came and someone asked me to come help move copy, I jumped right in.
Something kind of like that last part is going on right now. I’ve just recently started helping two nights a week so a news editor in a community newsroom can actually get a night off, and unlike the election-night editing stints, it’s a hands-on experience that includes not only working with reporters but things like discussions about what goes on the website early and what goes on Facebook. My first day without the training wheels (I was the only editor on duty), I posted my very first early news bulletin. It went up, and out of curiosity I went to Google to see where it would turn up. Answer: It didn’t. But then the web editor tweaked the URL to put a person’s name in it — VOILA! The bulletin was at the top of the Google search results.
I had committed the most elementary error: I put a print headline on a website story. It’s not like I don’t know the search-engine-optimization rules; I spend a chunk of my time each week reminding editors of things like this. If you have attended any training sessions where web-oriented folks talk about things like this, well, I’ve sat through the same ones, multiple times in various states.
So, you ask, do I have a point? Yes, as elementary as my error: When you post a story online, take a few seconds and think about how that story is going to get found. Is the headline specific (personal names, business, place names, topic, etc.)? Did you include tags? Spending that extra minute or so on your end can make a lot of difference.