Wick Communications

Break the news then put it back together

In Online media on 30 Mar 2012 at 8:52 am

By now, most of us are breaking news on the Web. Whether you toil for a weekly or a daily newspaper, sitting on big news for days or even hours is no longer acceptable.

So tell me, what do you do with that Web story after it’s posted?

The temptation is to cut and paste it right into the newspaper. After all, you have done all that heavy lifting for the Web, and many of your newspaper readers won’t have seen the story online. The concept is called “reverse publishing” and it was all the rage a couple years back.

I think we have to reverse field again. Reverse publishing was never a great idea.

The problem is twofold, beginning with the concept of time. Stories evolve. The story we write today no longer suffices tomorrow. You know this instinctively. Say there is a fire in your town. No one is injured, but people see the smoke for miles around. Your lede might look like this:

A two-alarm fire on the 200 block of Yosemite Avenue Friday left five people homeless and caused minor injuries to one city firefighter. …

That is the sort of thing your readers may talk about around the dinner table. But, just as you don’t have the same thing for dinner two days in a row, your appetite for news changes over time. The next day you may wonder how the fire started, where the family is living, how the firefighter is faring. You want to warm up yesterday’s news with some new stuff. The next day your lede may be:

Sam and Kitty Bright can list their possessions on the fingers of one hand, but they are nonetheless counting their many blessings after fire destroyed their home earlier this week.

Preparing the newsy leftovers may not take all that much work. You’ve already got the skeleton of a story from your Web report. You likely only have to make a couple calls and find out what happened next. More often than not, you can use the lion’s share of what ran on the Web lower in your print story, after a fresh lede. Other times, events will intervene that leave a two-day-old story moot. Sometimes, the Web report is no longer appropriate for the newspaper. You won’t know until you doublecheck with sources.

The other reason to freshen the lede, of course, is that you want to give readers something new to nibble. Your newspaper should never seem like a dead-tree version of your website. If it does, you are going to have a devil of a time selling them.

Just remember to break the news on the Web and then put it all together again in the newspaper.



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