Poor E-News Quality? Check Your Assignment Procedures

In this post ASBPE Ethics Chair, Howard Rauch highlights the importance of making a solid assignment to set the stage for quality content.

We all know that the best-written articles begin with a solid assignment from editorial management.  The discussion covers all the bases.  Best angles are itemized.  Sources are identified.  The writer comes to the assignment meeting with a list of proposed questions. The list is refined by the assigning editor, after which the information-gathering process begins.

Sounds logical . . . right?  But when it comes to e-news development, the reality often seems far from the truth.  An unhappy ending is guaranteed if the assignee is a new recruit still in the process of learning the industry you cover.

During a recent e-news development project, it became apparent that most assignments to new staffers were made hastily.  In concert, the senior editors and I agreed to switch to a slower, better-organized e-news assignment process.  Here is how things work now (please note that this is small staff of three editors handling an imposing digital/print workload):

  • Editor-in-chief (EIC) reviews and passes along to staff editor press releases and other source material.  Instructions cover placement recommendations regarding channels, resources, recommended research, etc.  Additionally, EIC specifies which releases are to be pursued for enterprise reporting.
  • Prior to writing the items, staff editor coordinates with managing editor.  This follow-up meeting covers specific subject matter to report, final list of sources and important questions to be posed to interviewees.
  • Staff editor writes the items and sends the file to consultant for analysis and review.  Feedback from consultant is conveyed via phone, usually within an hour of receiving the material to evaluate.
  • Staff editor makes revisions as necessary and sends file to managing editor.
  • Managing editor sends final draft to EIC, who pays special attention to headlines and presentation elements.

The additional time spent on e-news development has paid immediate dividends in terms of quality.  Most important is the dramatic improvement in enterprise reporting and writing pace.  Findings of my ongoing e-news studies suggest that this systematic approach to making assignments is non-existent at many sites.  For example, my most recent e-news review using eight-factor scoring resulted in the lowest performing delivery to date – 36.5 out of a possible 100 points.  All of the articles posted appeared to be straight rewrites of PR announcements.  Clearly, whatever assignment process was in place left much to be desired.

You may not agree fully with the revised assignment approach described above.  But you must have a system in place with quality checks all along the line.  Just remember, when it comes to e-news delivery, you are competing with the world, not just other B2B publishers.

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