How to be successful online? It’s a question newspapers worldwide are asking and the answer may not be much more complicated than something we already know how to do: good editing.
This insight comes from a recent World Editors Forum study tour of multimedia newsrooms in the United States, during which we visited The Huffington Post as well as several other media organizations.
The HuffPost is one of the most successful news websites in the world. Much has been written about the fact it that aggregates a great deal of its content. As the argument goes, The Huffington Post is getting rich off the work of our journalists. However, that generalization hardly explains its success. The site is edited with sophistication, imagination and attention to detail, just like a good newspaper.
This became clear one morning as I prepared for our group of overseas journalists to visit The Huffington Post as well as the New York Daily News. I was struck by the similarities of their websites. Both covered many of the same stories in a similar fashion. The stories were intriguing, headlines were creative and pictures captured the visitor’s attention.
However, The Huffington Post, as a news organization exclusive to the Internet, does much more than a typical newspaper website. Stories prominently integrate social media, video and comments. It is easy to share stories, react to them or find related content. Video is prominent throughout the site and now there is an online TV channel, HuffPost Live, which is an innovative experiment in online video.
User engagement is a strength of the HuffPost. Stories sometimes attract thousands of comments. The Huffington Post is a community, an elusive goal for many traditional news organizations. On some newspaper websites one can find obscenities, racist opinions and unfair personal attacks that we never would allow in print. The explanation I often hear is that there are too many comments and in an era of diminishing resources, not enough editors to read them all. As a result, troublemakers step in and the only thing the newspaper can do about it is to disable the comment function.
In contrast, The Huffington Post actually moderates its comments, all 200 million of them to date! The system for doing it is fascinating. A recent story on the Poynter Institute website explained how it works. There are 30 fulltime moderators who work from home. However, much of the moderation is done by an artificial intelligence machine called Julia, which stands for Just a Linguistic Algorithm. It’s a high tech solution to the age-old challenge of insuring a quality editorial product.
I think there’s an important lesson here for publishers. Success does not come from a presence in new media, as it sometimes is assumed, but rather from the quality of the content we distribute through these platforms.
That requires good editing.